There are strands in the DH theories, methods and practices that we have read thus far that you all circled back to in your presentations last week that are evident in Chan’s work:
- Values collaboration that acknowledges the varied inputs to production of knowledge and recognizes multiple types of labor
- Promotes a view of access that takes into account varied ethical concerns and diverse cultural protocols – that doesn’t default to open as the standard
- Deconstruction of assumptions behind normative power structures
- Recognition of multiple standpoints and stakeholders
- Reframes digital projects and platforms through intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality
- Emphasizes local articulations of the digital
Chan asks us to start with the underlying assumptions about universalisms, much like Gallon asking us to step back and question how humanity is defined. By doing so we see how these specific universalisms create and limit possibilities around information technologies and more specifically the networks of relations and sociality they inform and produce that grow from and within in them.
What work do universalisms do? That is how do they shape our understanding of networks and more broadly social, political and cultural change? Chan suggests that the way digital futures are imagined, narrated and created—through assumptions about innovation, progress, technologies agency – are limited by these universal attributes and affordances of technology. To disrupt these, she posits an ethnographic methodology that emphasize “vibrant micronarratives and situated stories around IT and innovation culture” (xi) Specifically she wants to chart how these unhinge grand narratives of progress that are the foundation of these universalisms around technology. She examines how information technologies have become a shorthand for “imagining global connection” (xiii) and in doing so seeks to undo the “context-erasing” (5) accounts that have so far been the dominant trend in studies of global networks and information technologies.
In her introduction, Chan charts the Peruvian state and “peripheries” ambivalent relationship within the context of local histories, regional politics and these global narratives of techno-futurism that provide an unwavering path for ICTs as the promise an “already predictable future” – one where new technologies through global networks act as a universal savior, in this particular local. While the Peruvian state is able to look away from local unrest and their own role in the state of rural Peruvian villages, the universal narrative is able to override their agency and proclaim a neutral view of what counts as a possible future. At the same time, we see multiple sets of “actors” engaged in creating the narrative possibilities of this future and those that are actively working against it. These overlapping networks are where Chan puts her focus to uproot the celebratory nature of these universalisms. As she argues, “If ICT networks have advanced universalizing ambitions it is in part because they enable the building of strategic alliances between urban and rural subjects, the high tech and the traditional, the wealthy and the economically marginalized between the social and the technical and the cultural and natural.” (15) Throughout her chapters we see these alliances as well as the tensions, ambivalence, strategic positioning and pushback from various local communities (artisans, schoolteachers, FLOSS group members, politicians, etc.). Through these we see “the imaginaries and innovations that underpin digital culture and surround networked connections” (19).
Ultimately, she shows that these universalisms are not rooted to a binary localization, instead in the messiness of the local adaptations to IP regimes, software production, and global development plans we see these universalisms start to unravel in local articulations of diverse sets of presents and notions of the future. It is these moments of unrest that she argues open the possibilities for imagining new futures that can undo the stranglehold of these universalisms and the techno-utopianism that accompanies them. But she is clear eyed in her diagnosis, there is no revolution that will undo the power of these universalisms overnight, but the promise of these loosely conjoined, strategic networks that we see the local undoing. She argues that, “It is here, in these newly forged zones, that the presumed givens and consensus of technology’s universalizing future can be begin to be unsettled and slowly, perhaps, give way to something altogether unexpected.” (195).
How do you see the promise of localized networks (people, technology, infrastructure, etc) to uproot these universalisms?
Where do you see the power of these universalisms the most in the constructions of a given digital future?
How do you see Chan’s argument and her methodology intersect with the DH scholars we have encountered this term?
Network Peripheries reminds me of Risam’s arguments about the challenges of local and global in “Navigating the Global Digital Humanities”. This book illustrates local case studies that help us understand Risam’s concerns about the dominance of neoliberal global tech-policies over the local communities that perpetuate the age-old colonial ideologies and stereotypes and re-create the power binary between local communities and global corporate power. In chapter three, Chan critiques how De La Fuente from ALLPA stereotypes the local ceramic-artisans as mentally incapable of embracing the advantages of new technology, even though ALLPA’s policies fail both to recognize the welfare of both local and global stakeholders and to sustain coherent relationship among the members of the community and between the community and the global stakeholders.
I agree that there is a lot of overlap between Risam’s article and Networking Peripheries. Risam writes: “The challenge is not to let hegemonic local forms—such as practices or debates taken for granted in the United States—overdetermine the definition of digital humanities globally.” The ALLPA standpoint on Chulucanas artisans exemplifies the assumed neutrality & normalization of US (and other Western) techniques and practices that Risam describes. Chan name’s de la Feunte’s point of view as an “evolutionary narrative” (68), seeing Chulucanas as ‘reaching’ their potential as Western-style producers. The challenge for both trade and DH seems to be resisting the idea that “global” is synonymous with U.S.
The system lost my comment here, but essentially I was saying that multilateral trade agreements could be one form of a decentralized network which would destandardize English and the US as defaults in global trade.
Localized networks in Peru were divided in as many ways as they were united. What united various networks was the recognition that universal notions of governing, thinking, organizing etc. were not suitable for their unique locales. The “secure” and well-developed superpower Microsoft certainly appears to be the natural choice for governments, who must keep citizens’ information private and secure. But the FLOSS movement that followed rampant government corruption successfully uprooted these assumptions, replacing them with questions and considerations about how open-source solutions can, in many ways, be more secure, transparent, dynamic, and useful. The local congressman Villanueva, who was anything but a technology expert, effectively challenged the standard of a centralized, American technology being superior to what local programmers, hackers, and students could provide. Villanueva and the various actors were able to voice their resistance to the status quo through the networks that create and sustain that status quo, much like Risam and Gallon call for in their digital debate pieces.
In particular, Gallon’s piece focuses on how current conceptions of the “humanities” problematically neutralizes the term, leaving minoritized and racialized groups effectively outside of “the humanities.” White, Western ideology remains nameless and uninvestigated, while seeing the world and its cultures as its subject matter. For Gallon, black digital humanities would “unmask racialized systems of power,” backing up and redefining “humanities” so it included, and named, all groups, not just those in power, and in the process, reveal that those in power are not simply there by accident.
Roopika Risam’s argument works in similar ways, though focusing on disparate groups within feminism. Risam argues for more interdisciplinary approaches in DH, rather than reliance on natural, neutral, or central authorities. Additionally, Risam’s position emphasizes notions of place, differentiating DH in various locales from a Western, white, male center.
Chan’s work exemplifies aspects from both Risam and Gallon. Racialized indigenous artisans, computer programmers in developing countries, congressmen from agricultural areas and other “unlikely” groups are empowered in questioning and challenging the central, natural-seeming dominance of white, American technologies and ideologies. As those groups are networked together in fighting such dominance, notions of authority and who has a voice on a global stage are also challenged as local actors compete on a global stage with the likes of Bill Gates and other icons of power and “progress.”
I have been thinking about Chapter 1 and how if the artisans had banded together themselves to create something like the DO, they would have had much more control over what it turned out to be and do. The tricky part is encouraging grassroots efforts which can form a network without imposing any top-down ideas about what the final effect should be.
Yes, Richard. Assuming the local groups would elect to do that… A part in chapter 4 I especially liked was the emphasis that success in networking disparate groups does not guarantee any long-term cooperation or agreement. It’s always contextual, subject to change given circumstances in time and place.
And I imagine affected by perceptions about what successful networking “should be.” I’m curious about how dissemination of Western media plays into this … a lot of Hollywood movies, for example, send a very specific message about what the long term goals of a movement should look like.