Natalia Cecire’s article “Introduction: Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities” discusses the debates around the role of theory in the digital humanities which are centered around the relationships of saying and doing. What most interested me about Cecire’s article was the section on how “Claims about doing are economic claims.” Cecire demonstrates how the “epistemology of doing has come to be framed in strangely specific terms, with social consequences for how it plays out in the wider discipline.” She uses the examples of wording such as “hands-on,” “getting your hands dirty,” and “building” which offer a distinctly masculine view of what exactly constitutes doing. These words are distinctly different from other metaphors for doing, such as “weaving, cooking… or nurturing. ” Cecire makes the points that within the humanities are dimensions of praxis: performance and activism, which are commonly found in disciplines such as women’s and ethnic studies. The choice of digital humanities to use terms such as “digging” and “building” to describe doing as leads to “distinctive methodologies of digital humanities [to be] represented in comfortably industrial terms.” Cecire argues that though the digital humanities is increasingly represented as a “return to a (white, male) industrial order of union jobs and visible products,” it is also in the best position to “critique and effect change in a social form—not merely to replicate it.”
An example I found of the digital humanities being “implicated in the postindustrial ‘feminization of labor’” that Cecire mentions can be found in Shawn Wen’s article “The Ladies Vanish.” Wen discusses the “different class of workers” found at Google that worked for ScanOps, “the team that did the painstaking work of scanning texts that make up Google Books.” These workers were mostly black and Latino, and started their shifts at 4 am in order to keep them separate from the majority of predominately white workers on the Google campus. Google erases the laborers from its Google Books project, in favor of promoting the technology and “expansive virtual library.” Google is not alone in hiding the human labor. Amazon has a Mechanical Turk program which “hires people to do invisible work online—work which makes their client companies’ software look flawless.” According to Wen:
The New York Times reports that workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk earn an estimated range of $1.20 to $5 per hour on average. Even more controversially, the terms of service allow employers to “accept” or “reject” the work after they receive it, no questions asked. The company is allowed to keep the work after they “reject” it, but the worker is denied pay and receives a lower online rating, making it harder to obtain future work on the site… [To add to this,] a study by NYU professor Panos Ipeirotis found that almost 70% of Mechanical Turkers were women. How shocking: the low prestige, invisible, poorly paid jobs on the Internet are filled by women. Women provide the behind the scenes labor that is mystified as the work of computers, unglamorous work transformed into apparent algorithmic perfection.
These examples show the importance of why the digital humanities should critique and effect change, and why theory is a fundamental place to begin.