DH and Gendering Code

I wanted to give some links to the post that I mentioned in class by Miriam Posner and also #TransformDH.

I think exploring the boundaries of who may be more and less likely to participate in DH (or any field) is important. Just as the digital divide restricts who is able to participate in online projects (it would be very difficult to participate in many networked projects while relying on access to a public computer for limited amounts of time at your library, for example, or in a rural area without high-speed internet connections) the expectations of skills that DH’ers should have influences who will and will not participate. If programming is seen as something “more men do,” and coding is necessary to be seen as a DH’er, then those who don’t appreciate boys’ clubs might walk away from the DH immediately instead of engaging with and improving the field.

But coding seems to be only one part of the issue here: there is also the way that Miriam argues that some work (coding) seems to be being valued as more important than other work (everything else). How can this be changed? Is it enough to have great projects that put teaching, collaboration or other skills at their center? Can DH avoid entangling with gatekeepers–whether they are (gendered) techies or others? Or can it avoid the dominant culture of privileging white males and relying on forms of academic exclusion?

About Alycia Sellie

Alycia Sellie is the Associate Librarian for Collections at the Graduate Center Library.
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3 Responses to DH and Gendering Code

  1. I think you’re totally right, Roxanne–this conversation is hard to have because it does seem to feel like we are taking on much more than just DH and gender, but all barriers that keep folks out of participating in DH.

    I think that one of the things that having this conversation within the DH community does is to mark the DH landscape as one within which it is ok to point to and talk about the boundaries and what it is that makes up the field. And I think the more that this process of reflection and discussion can be fostered within a community, the better chance it has to continue to be something worthwhile. I would like to see DH continue to be a field where those who are involved can influence how newcomers are welcomed, rather than a community where everyone is expected to enjoy golf, know how to code, or perform some other coded action (that can easily be seen privileges certain groups) before they can even enter into the discussion.

    We’ve seen that there are a plethora of definitions of DH, and I take this as an indication that this is a collaborative and still-moving field, where those who take on DH can influence what it is and what it becomes. Let’s try to make sure then that DH is a welcoming space that opens up for all of those who want to take part–even if taking part is to point out shortcomings or to have difficult discussions that feel larger than just this field alone.

  2. Roxanne Shirazi says:

    I’ve been following this discussion and have been having a hard time articulating how I feel about it. It is just so big and touches on so many aspects of everything. So, I’ll try to focus briefly on the scenario you pose here wherein “those who don’t appreciate boys clubs might walk away from the DH immediately.” I think as women we grow accustomed to encountering boys clubs everywhere, inside and outside the academy, and–as women–we have to make life decisions based not only on the idea of a profession but on the reality of the workplace.

    I come to grad school from a corporate culture where, despite a healthy proportion of women in management, there were plenty of traditions that contributed to the dominance of the good ol’ boys network–such as the annual golf outing with the client (not the most comfortable environment for a female from a working class background). Now, that was just one indicator for me that I was in the wrong place, but the thing is, as Stephen Ramsey said in his excellent comment to Miriam’s first piece–I was good at my work and I enjoyed it immensely. By all accounts I was on my way to a very successful career. But I hated the culture of it, so ultimately I left. Instead, I discovered a field where I could align my aptitude for sales (data) analysis, customer service (reference) and management (instruction?) with a value system that was meaningful for me and a culture that was open to me. I have no doubt in my mind that I came out on top in this equation.

    All of this is to say that I agree that barriers to entry, real or perceived (though I would argue that perceived is real), occur to the detriment of the field. And that these issues are by no means specific to DH, but reflect the larger dance that women, minorites, LGBT and anyone else faced with a dominant culture has had to perform their entire lives.

    Here’s the thing, though: the scenario Steve Ramsey described happens ALL THE TIME. And it is very easy to decide just to walk away if you’re the one who feels like you’ve “walked into the wrong restroom.” Perhaps we need to look at what it is that stops us from walking away, and try to cultivate those things. Mentoring is one. And I think it needs to go back to Lisa Spiro’s call for a core values statement. I was fortunate to find librarianship as a refuge but it has its own sub-cultures and cliques and “cool kids table.” Yet I can always look at something like the ALA Core Values statement and get confirmation that this indeed is something I want to be a part of, and it motivates me to “man up” when faced with these barriers. We all have to pick our battles. Until we as a society can figure out how to break down these barriers, I think DH should work on convincing newcomers that these are battles worth fighting, and elucidating core values of the field can help as we attempt to reconcile the ideas with the reality.

  3. Pingback: Things we share | Miriam Posner's Blog

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