It’s October again, which means it’s time for the mid-semester crunch! Right now in the CHI calendar, we’re working through a series of rapid development challenges, most of which focus on the technical skills we’ll need to complete our projects. In addition to brushing up on our coding and design abilities, these challenges can help orient us towards realistic, achievable scopes for the projects we’ll propose in December. In the meantime, I’m beginning to turn over my ideas for my own final project this year and am reflecting over my experiences creating God Honoring Snark in 2021-22.
Last November, I considered “how bodies of data are generated, structured, and shared through storytelling,” a throughline in my work as a digital cultural rhetorician, and wrote:
Each of these [textile, sonic, or haptic DH] pieces demonstrate that data is never truly disembodied. For my CHI project and my dissertation, I’m working with a textual dataset generated by an online community that discusses religious fundamentalism and misogyny, a community in which I am both a participant and a researcher. In thinking about how to best represent this data and the stories it contains, these pieces inspire and challenge me to make visible the processes by which this data came to be (both the ways that participants enter and engage in the online community and how I, as a researcher, come to collect, sort, and present the resulting texts) and to think innovatively about how digital methods can represent these slow processes of accrual and the human and infrastructural forces that shape them. [Emphasis added]
While relationality, transparency, and deep storytelling through human and non-human interactions have been and remain foundational to my processes as a researcher, conveying the messiness of data collection and analysis, that slow accrual of meaning in texts and interactions, and the rhetoricity of code and data processing ultimately took a backseat to a mad scramble to gain proficiency in a particular set of tools (PushShift, R, Twine) as I worked to finish my CHI project before the end of the semester. In part, I attribute this to a steep learning curve. Over the course of creating my project, I engaged in forms of research and project creation that were entirely new to me: text scraping, data wrangling, and computational text analysis. In conjunction with these tools, I was learning to navigate institutional timelines and new genres while seeking IRB approval to work with the online community at the heart of God Honoring Snark, which was itself an important learning experience. (The moral of that particular story: read carefully, write precisely, and budget more time than you expect.)
However, I am also re-thinking how I envision the ways visitors or participants will experience my CHI project this year. God Honoring Snark succeeded in telling a story, engaging visitors in an interactive and relatively immersive snark experience before presenting them with the topic-modeling results and their analysis. In that design, I was particularly concerned with pacing and responsiveness, and I used time-delayed text, “relationality” variables, and branching pathways to really invite visitors into the ethical ambiguity of snark. In my next project, I’d like to extend that kind of immersive, responsive experience to the full project (although it won’t be about snarking!), perhaps building in ways for users to interact with the data themselves and to identify and manipulate patterns to draw their own meaningful conclusions. In doing so, I continue to root my digital cultural heritage work in digital cultural rhetorics’ commitments to “recognize and make explicit the plurality of embodied, technological, and rhetorical negotiations” contained within digital spaces (Haas, 2018, pg. 412). In so doing, I likewise place my work in relation to technofeminist ethics–I particularly love this piece by Patricia Fancher for the ways she writes about using feminist values to reconsider “good” design. Although digital cultural rhetorics and technofeminism branch from different histories, both share a commitment to troubling the often-invisibilized relationships between our embodied selves, digital presence, and the various logics, algorithms, and tech infrastructures that shape our interactions. Both value storytelling and complexity in ways that make room for overlap and “messiness” when a single narrative would be reductive. In short, while details about my project-in-planning are still tentative and taking shape, I’m hoping to experiment with storytelling, immersion, and interactivity on more levels, facilitated by the project management lessons learned last year.
Until then, I’ll be busy curating projects across the digital humanities, cultural rhetorics, and feminist code studies that inspire me–check back in November to see what I find!