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Constellations of Community, Care, and Knowledge: A Collection of Vignettes from Pandemic Times

Published onJun 06, 2023
Constellations of Community, Care, and Knowledge: A Collection of Vignettes from Pandemic Times

Our Relational Practice

This article brings together six graduate students from the 2020-2021 graduate residency program at the Lewis and Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship—an annual, interdisciplinary program for emerging Digital Humanities (DH) scholars at McMaster University. Over the year of our residency, we found ourselves interrogating normative assumptions about and approaches to graduate training, mentorship, productivity, pedagogy, and public scholarship in DH. At the same time, our individual experiences of precarity and illness during a pandemic heightened the nefarious ways in which, in- and outside of academia, the colonial and the neoliberal abound. Our collective response to the pressures of both the pandemic and the university, however, centred on a deliberate and collaborative development of a community that privileged the networking of care and co-production of knowledge. The following six vignettes describe, honour, and extend our community practice as a means to reflect on the potentials of what we term intentional constellations of community in DH. By mobilizing a compilation of pieces rather than a unified authorial voice, we consider knowledge-making as a collaborative endeavour, in turn practicing relational methods to upend straight, colonial, and neoliberal modes of inquiry. Taken together, our interconnected vignettes enact a shared reflexive practice that we aim to centre in DH graduate training and mentorship.

Established in 2012 as a collaboration between the University Library and the Faculty of Humanities, the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship (SCDS) offers technical and consultation services, workshops, and other learning opportunities that invite campus community members into digital scholarship approaches. As part of its annual programming, the SCDS hosts a graduate residency for students to conduct individual research projects within a physical space on campus. By being in the Centre space and attending Centre events, graduate residents receive an expansive graduate training experience with an emphasis on transdisciplinary learning communities in an effort to trouble an understanding of its staff as outsourced experts, thereby making space for multiple disciplinary competencies and lived experiences.

We did not have this residency experience. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, our residency became completely remote. Through our computer screens and in our at-home offices, the remote residency necessitated a collective experiment with methodology and method. Without the boundaries of office cubicles, the residency became an opportunity to explore interdisciplinary dialogue, recursive learning experiences, and the development of “rhetorical, critical, and contextual mindsets” (Opel and Simeone 26) through community-oriented models of DH research. These relational, mediated interactions became so crucial to our residency experiences. And yet, we also noted how their affects and pleasures evaded or exceeded documentation and analysis. Thus, rather than offering an inventory of our collective residency activities, our vignettes call for and enact a deeper recognition of forms of DH graduate education that unfold relationally, affectively, and reflexively.

To “carve out” the space for such facets of DH graduate training requires “pushing back against competing discourses of neoliberal vocationalism, funding and labour precarity on the one hand, and technological utopianism and tool fetishization on the other” (Opel and Simeone 4). Through a collective reflexive process, we attend to the varying ways in which collaborative learning communities can form within the parameters of institutionalized graduate training, despite the capitalist and colonial impulse to produce successful individual research projects or distinguished academic CVs. By considering how “DH contains its own mirror: it is both humanities done digitally and the digital as scrutinized humanistically,” we highlight how DH reproduces colonial and neoliberal understandings of scholarly work in its graduate training as individualistic, isolated, and innovative (Eichmann-Kalwara et al. 72). It is reflexivity, we argue, that prompts DH practitioners to value more than just problem-solving based motives to research. Our vignettes thus engage in the critical digital humanities task of “rethinking the logic” of both digital space and DH practice “in order to accommodate and enable […] intra-active knowledges, feelings, social lives, politics and cultural productions” (McLeod et al.). We place value less on the desire for research output and more on the pleasures of collective research engagement. In what follows, we collectively draw on reflexivity to “make transparent the polyvocal nature of [our] collaboration” (McLeod et al.), to constellate our un/learning processes, and to reimagine how care might lead our research practices.

As part of this recalibration, these vignettes emerge from our efforts to pinpoint, navigate, and problematize colonial and neoliberal definitions of mentorship, collaboration, productivity, pedagogy, access, and public scholarship. While the assumptions built into such terms may vary, they nevertheless are tied to the circulation of institutional and disciplinary affects and to the “hidden curriculum” of academia (Margolis), and of DH scholarship (Morford et al. 24). Encounters with amorphous and unspoken assumptions of what it means to learn, teach, and do DH scholarship are particularly fraught for graduate students: because we may be uncertainly located within labour recognition and authorship conventions (Nowviskie 170; Mann); because we may be “emerging” in multiple fields and thus may not (yet) see ourselves as DH practitioners (Benatti et al. 1); and “because we may not have encountered these tools and methods in our undergraduate educations—or, if encountered, we are still learning how they are built, what or who they omit, and whose politics they reproduce” (O’Donnell 42). We therefore argue that excavating these affects and assumptions needs to be at the centre of DH’s pedagogical models. To enact this focus, the first three vignettes offer methodological starting points for delving into slow, interdisciplinary, and public scholarship. The three authors prioritize these research modalities in DH training and mentorship models. The latter three vignettes propose theoretical and conceptual shifts—namely, shifts that prioritize affect and relationality—in order to elucidate how communities of practice might better focus on the pedagogies and pleasures of collaboration.

Throughout, we enact a methodology of “constellations:” the networks that assemble together our individual experiences, and which constitute our collective praxis. Constellations, for us, help to align contingencies of scale, location, knowledge, history, and relation. We therefore prioritize a relational practice that works to recognize the different ways we are enmeshed together. Inspired by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg), we consider how constellations “become networks within the larger whole” (217), and in turn, open up alternatives to institutional structures that demand individuality over relation. These vignettes demonstrate how this very relational practice resembles what Wendy Hui Kyong Chun describes as “online friendship,” which very much “encapsulates the promise and threat of networks,” especially within the institutional constraints of academia (Chun 103). Put simply, this online friendship—a relation-based research practice fostered through a DH collaborative practice of care—thwarts the neoliberal and colonial expectations of the university, which prioritize discrete, trackable, and fundable research outputs as markers of scholarly success. By reflecting on the experiential, the digital, the affective, and the interdisciplinary, we enact an intervention that extends the possibilities of mainstream DH pedagogical structures and mentorship strategies towards relation-based graduate training.

We understand our methodology of constellating as transforming ephemeral, virtual spaces and tasks into a sustained exchange between different members of the collective, taking into consideration the geographical, emotional, digital, and personal proximities and distances between us as well as those adjacent to our collective. Given the conditions of our fully remote SCDS residency, we also emphasize that relational work has become all the more important amid the coronavirus pandemic, and ongoing crises of global capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism. Yet we are mindful that we are drawn together through place, specifically the lands on which McMaster University sits, and specifically in Ohròn:wakon, which is governed by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum, an ongoing agreement shared between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg. Even though our residencies, and thus our constellations, are primarily virtual, it is the land that sustains the social, global, extractive, and technical infrastructures that make our digital scholarship possible today. We are still experiencing pandemic times, and yet there remains some certainty in and through the land. As Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (so-called North America) continue to teach us, the land’s constancy encourages us to practice care and be accountable in that practice. We aim in this piece to underscore the processes of coming to understand the necessity of such constellations of care and community in pandemic times, in and outside of the academy.

Slow Scholarship and the Ethics of Collaboration

Sarah Paust, University of California, Los Angeles

I have never been very comfortable with uncertainty. I have always preferred to plan, to organize, to minimize processual hiccups. I prided myself on efficiency, especially as an anthropologist-in-training. And so, I was wholly unprepared for the challenges of scholarship amid COVID-19. While the pandemic raged on in 2020, I made the transition from undergraduate to virtual graduate school and began a completely remote residency at the SCDS. I had limited experience with DH and no idea what to expect as a graduate resident. Living in another country away from my peers during this global health crisis, I acutely felt how isolation and institutional pressure was suddenly amplified along with intense uncertainty and innumerable deaths. The university continues to insist on “expediency, efficiency, and high levels of production within compressed time frames” (Wahab et al. 149). A one-year master’s degree in pandemic times exemplifies as much. This academic regime of productivity brought the neoliberal university into our own homes as well as the expectation to keep achieving remarkable research based on pre-pandemic metrics. It continues to neglect the very real ways that the pandemic has intensified precarity, especially for graduate students.

In one of our biweekly residency meetings, we stared into our webcams before one of us nervously admitted that things were hard. The dam broke and we all began to chime in, one by one, giving voice to our frustrations, fears, and tentative desires for the remainder of the academic year. Together, we began to discuss what it would mean to treat our process as our product; in other words, to prioritize our community ethics of care-full dialogue and flexibility over the linear timelines set out by our proposed individual research projects. Through it all, this care, consistency, and peer mentorship fostered in the digital residency became my anchor, reminding me of what I loved about research, particularly the interdisciplinary and experimental possibilities of collaboration.

Our residency practiced what Alison Mountz et al. describe as “slow scholarship and care work” wherein we prioritized “collective rather than individualizing endeavors; as resistance to, rather than reification of, the current system” of academic labour and graduate training (“All for Slow Scholarship”). By deliberately taking time to think with-and-in community, we prioritized collective dialogue and reflection over traditional forms of research output, such as an article or conference talk. Our residency research practice pushed back on the incessant demands of the neoliberal university. My aim in this short vignette then is to reflexively meditate on the intersections of slowness, interdisciplinarity, and digital scholarship at a time where disruption, delays, and distance necessitate a research practice over product. By reflecting on how facilitating networks of collaboration in digital scholarship might mitigate the capitalist and colonial impulses of the university, I recall a feminist ethics of care to consider how constellating community may invite avenues to reshape graduate training in digital scholarship.

The SCDS residency welcomes graduate students from across disciplines to spend a year engaging with a technical support team. As graduate residents, we were asked to propose a final “research product”—such as an essay, a website, a visualization, or an archive. The idea for my project came to me while sipping my third cup of coffee and doom-scrolling Twitter during the early days of the pandemic: I would create a virtual mock course on biopower using Tumblr (a popular blogging platform) to reach young people interested in science and social justice; to see the final Tumblr, go to My approach was to think with the research methods of digital anthropology, which Jennifer A. Rode describes as a “reflexive stance, comparative analysis and use of critical theory” (122). I found myself more engaged with the reflexive aspects of my research throughout the year. More than ever, I was moving slowly and methodically. I was paying attention to the small details of my work and sitting with its tensions. My project became as much about creating a mock online course as it was about the reflexive process of its creation.

To some extent, it was the ultimate exercise in slow scholarship. I was wrestling with my experiment in digital pedagogy. Within pandemic times, I had to reconsider how pedagogy functions online—the whos, hows, and whats of communicating a course on biopolitics online during a biopolitical crisis. Perhaps more urgently than ever, this context required “a need amid the chaos to slow—things—down” (Mountz et al., “For Slow Scholarship” 1238). Moreover, it meant that I needed to slowly consider the technical aspects of building a website. In digital scholarship it is generally framed that “labs [are] spaces of technical production and inquiry” despite how such labs “produce and police the boundaries of legitimate and recognizable knowledge work—including in the Digital Humanities” (Malazita et al.). Within the SCDS, however, we did not practice this lab-based residency, primarily because we were not physically within the Centre’s space. Instead, we practiced a virtual digital scholarship collective that encouraged slow and collaborative scholarship “to carve out space for deep thought in mixed-methods thinking” that pushes back on the productivity expectations of graduate training (Opel and Simeone 4). I argue that our practice of slow scholarship exemplified what Mountz et al. argue to be a feminist undertaking through a form of collective resistance to the unreasonable demands of the neoliberal university (“For Slow Scholarship” 1238).

As collaborators, our work was necessarily interdisciplinary—we came from a variety of disciplinary “homes,” and we were all at different stages in our graduate school journeys. The support of my interdisciplinary collaborators was essential at every stage of the project. We slowly explored the technical possibilities for my research project (should I use WordPress or Tumblr?) as well as reading recommendations. Notably, too, we ensured that emotional support—care in all aspects—was central to our practice when the demands of research (and life) felt insurmountable. Our conversations pushed me to reconsider the accessibility and inclusivity of my work. In that sense, the work of digital scholarship, and the kinds of pedagogy it makes possible, are themselves dynamic, never truly “done.” Paradoxically, by facilitating our networks of care and collaboration, slowness gave rise to these elements of our practice that felt “quick”—a Twitter thread on the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship Twitter account (@macscds) comprised of ten tweets was borne out in hours of conversation and (co-)thinking, much like this collaborative article itself.

As graduate residents, we took up Mountz et al.’s call to cultivate “caring academic cultures and processes” (“For Slow Scholarship” 1238). This community practice had tangible, positive impacts on my work as a new graduate student. The intangible effects are much harder to put into words but no less important. Ethical conduct in the field has been a focal point of all my coursework in ethnographic methods, but this graduate residency has been a rare opportunity to hone the skills required to be an ethical member of a community of practice. Ethics do not begin and end with our research methods; they emerge with/in community and are continually revisited, refined, and critiqued. Thinking together, thinking slowly, is the foremost lesson I have taken from our time together. Inspired by Moya Z. Bailey’s guiding feminist ethical questions, this slow scholarship places care foremost (“#Transform(ing)DH”). It is by caring for ourselves, each other, and our research that we, at least, prioritized an ongoing slow practice over the demand to produce research products.

Reimagining Categorical Confines through Intersectional Interdisciplinarity

Alexis-Carlota Cochrane, McMaster University

In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa writes in celebration of that which cannot be contained, or that which threatens “to spill over the boundaries […] over the borders” (66). She describes the workings of hybridization as “ideas popping up here, popping up there, full of variations and seeming contradictions” (66). Anzaldúa articulates, of course, a mestiza consciousness. Originally, as a racial and legal classification term, “mestiza” (from the Spanish word mestizaje) described a person of mixed European and Indigenous lineage. The term has since transcended, as this vignette calls for, beyond solely racial classification to explore identities existing on the margins, in complexities, and across differences. Anzaldúa’s theorizing resonates with the intricacies of digital networks, even if she “is generally not cited as a reference regarding technology” (Nakamura 113). As a Latinx researcher exploring the intersections of algorithms, data justice, and digital culture, Anzaldúa’s mestiza consciousness guides my inquiry into how digital networks—with pop ups, variations, contradictions, assemblages—complicate the categorical confines of digital life and scholarship, especially amid the shift online during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the realms of research, a mestiza consciousness allows me to recognize how the current academic structures we exist in do not serve us. They participate in “entrenched habits and patterns of behavior” that maintain “rigid boundaries” (Anzaldúa 79). Yet in my collaborative work as a graduate resident at the SCDS, I have learnt the ways in which DH can act as a connective link. It is a network of sorts that encourages us to diversify—pop up here or there—beyond our pre-existing institutional confines. This vignette considers how we can continue to foster interdisciplinary networks of collaborative scholarship. It explores the possibilities that interdisciplinarity can bring to academia at its intersections. Inspired by Anzaldúa, I suggest that nurturing interdisciplinary constellations of collaboration allows us to learn through and from each other, guided by intentionality, intersectionality, and personal phenomenology. By reflecting on my residency experience, I consider how disciplinary borders separate theory and praxis to the detriment of graduate training as well as academia as a whole. Instead, I offer a reimagining of academia through the possibilities of DH, as a flexible network or community of intersectional scholars eager to crack the confines of disciplinary modes and institutional boundaries.

Practices of categorization have long tried to dictate where one category ends and the next begins without considering what exists in-between. In academia, there is a gravitation towards the disciplinary, which divides off into departments and faculties. The disciplinary categorizes (and separates) as a means to sequester methods and modes of research. As graduate students, we are trained to become scholars of our disciplines, each equipped with its defining research practices. We begin to identify as trainees in-and-of our fields. We can lose, in turn, the motives of our work that are often rooted in our identities, especially for the marginalized. Lisa Nakamura describes these ‘this or that’ practices as the clickable box paradigm—“one box among many on the menu of identity choices” with “no means to define or modify the terms or categories available” (102). Much like clickable online interfaces, academia demands that graduate training exists within “this or that” categorizations despite the inability of those categories to accurately capture dynamic research, identities, or experiences. Continuing to uphold these categories (wherein we prioritize the disciplinary instead of the interdisciplinary) ultimately sustains the structures of academia that fail to account for how intersectional identities complicate research in the best and most interdisciplinary of ways.

I have had enough of upholding these structures. They are not serving us. We do not need to abide by these categorical confines. I prompt us to instead consider an intersectional interdisciplinarity as a divergent path that asks DH to go beyond. It is possible to reimagine and, in some cases, abolish the categorizations that do not serve our research as well as the communities, causes, and positionalities that hold our scholarship accountable. There are avenues to (as Anzaldúa, Nakamura, and others exemplify) shift towards alternative ways of doing research that move beyond the silos of academia. It is through such a reimagination that we might push the boundaries of our individual disciplines as well as DH in order to consider the ways in which our identities impact and complicate our work.

My time as a graduate resident has put this reimagining into practice in-and-through DH. As an interdisciplinary residency and guided by our root in DH, the Centre brought together researchers from various disciplines, departments, and positionalities to reimagine how we research and learn. Our cohort assembled graduate students from English and Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Earth, Environment and Society, Social Work, and Communication Studies and Media Arts. We each brought our own disciplinary training to a residency program designed by the Centre’s academic director to be community driven. Not only did we bring our own individual digital scholarship projects to the residency, but we also brought specific methods such as close reading, archival work, data analysis, interviews, (auto)ethnography, and more. During our time together, however, our individual research projects began to reflect the ways in which we collectively shared resources, ideas, expertise, and practices. We potentially would not have had access to these methodologies and methods within our own departments and disciplines.

Together we experimented with interdisciplinary frameworks. As a cohort, we diversified our range of research practices beyond our disciplinary boundaries by intermixing, constellating, and caring. We became a network: an ongoing constellation of individual contributions to a collective interdisciplinary praxis. Partly, this network configuration relied on our assembly together as graduate residents. DH oriented our positioning in the collective. We each applied to be residents and so became bounded by an institutionalized DH centre. Yet, to some extent, the undertakings of DH also oriented our collaborative practices insofar as it webbed and weaved together those of us with overlapping research interests. Specifically, we found ourselves interlinked through feminist, queer, and anti-colonial approaches to DH. Intersectional feminism was “central [to our] digital humanities practices” (Wernimont and Losh xi). That is, our collective work together bolstered longstanding radical knowledges that prioritize lived experiences, push at the borders of disciplines, and promote the “work and communities of Black, Native, Latinx, queer, trans, and intersectional digital scholars” (xii). Our collective partly then centred intersectional collaborations, allowing us to learn from each other despite our siloed individual disciplinary training.

An intersectional interdisciplinarity approach to DH might help us to recognize how both research and subjectivities “spill over the boundaries” (Anzaldúa 66) and exist beyond pre-determined clickable box categorizations. Following DH scholars like Jacqueline Wernimont and Elizabeth Losh, I consider how DH might engage with complexity of identity and experience that cannot, and should not, be severed or delineated by boundaries or borders into static categories. For when we centre the intersectional interdisciplinary possibilities of DH, we can begin to identify how it not only connects us through the digital. We become attune to the prospects and demands of collaboration as we access and explore online training, digital archives, software visualization, digital surveillance, and digital community.

In turn, we focus on what Moya Z. Bailey calls an “elasticity” to our research practices, which can better consider the ways in which “identities inform both theory and practice in digital humanities” (“All the Digital Humanists”). For our residency group, we embodied this elasticity through a constellation of sorts. We were networking across disciplinary bounds, moving beyond borders together. With this embodied experience in mind, then, I offer the complication of categorical structures not as a solution to academia’s existing boundaries. Instead, I prompt us to continue reimagining and transcending categorical confines and the structures in which they are embedded to better serve us. It is through this act of reimagining that we, especially graduate students, can complicate norms that work to further marginalize the identities that spill over and are confined by these categorizations.

“Not A Tech Person”: Making Connections between Social Work, Digital Scholarship, and Community

Maddie Brockbank, McMaster University

I preface the following reflection on my experience as a graduate resident at the SCDS with a note that my understanding of digital scholarship is quite different from traditional perspectives of this work. This difference is largely due to my background as a social worker as well as my general aversion to all things tech. Technology and I do not get along. Through my own experiences with technology, I have seen digital spaces as more of a means to an end than a process or practice that could facilitate unique research and community-building. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online learning, which happened during my master’s degree, pushed me to consider modes of digital scholarship that I had not before. I was confronted with the necessity of digital scholarship. Suddenly, I had to shift my entire project from in-person focus groups to Zoom. I found myself in frequent dialogues with my peers about how we were supposed to carry on as usual when many of us did not know how to translate our projects to the digital. After numerous challenges of modifying my research to digital spaces, I began to explore the possibilities of intertwining social work research and digital scholarship. I questioned: How might integrating social work perspectives into a digital scholarship residency impact my research methods, my graduate training, and more broadly, the narrative surrounding tech aversion among social workers?

In applying to the graduate residency, I considered my broader research and personal commitments to craft a digital scholarship project that merged my social work interests with technical platform possibilities. I turned to the findings of a survey done in 2019 of student perspectives of sexual violence on university and college campuses across Ontario. This survey found that, on average, 61% of students are unaware of supports and resources related to sexual violence despite the reality that approximately 63% of students reported an experience of sexual harassment on campus (CCI Research Inc.). These findings resonate with how students and teaching assistants (TAs), including myself and my peers, do not feel truly equipped to support a student reaching out about a variety of concerns, ranging from disclosing sexual violence in an assignment to staying after class to ask about mental health and financial supports at the university. While I can only speculate about how often and why students do feel comfortable disclosing to TAs, I note that it often happens within the context of either hoping to receive academic accommodations or because the student felt safe enough to share. And these concerns around accessible support and resources have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online learning.

Motivated by this clear gap and the desire to better support students’ learning experiences, I sought to utilize the digital tools made available through the residency to work toward a research project aimed to develop a series of virtual resource modules and webinars to support teaching assistants, instructors, and students in better addressing student concerns related to mental health and experiences of violence. By bringing my social work methodologies to a digital platform and clickable virtual tools, I sought to address the need for McMaster University to integrate anti-oppressive perspectives more readily into pedagogy and learning. My goals were optimistic and lofty. To be perfectly candid, I faced quite a bit of institutional resistance, which forced me to reimagine the project while also staying true to its objectives about improving support for students.

As the project shifted, it became key to reimagine it. Partly, the practice of reimagining required an engagement with my residency cohort wherein I could engage with other forms, tools, and methodologies of digital scholarship in a collective which was exploring the dynamics of community-oriented digital scholarship mentorship as a means to resist more traditional academic hierarchies of knowledge production and training. Partly, too, my practice of adapting the project allowed my research to push its boundaries to better involve communities that lie outside of the university. The academic sphere of “the university” is often siloed from that of the “community” reaching outside of the physical campus borders; in my case, McMaster University often feels like its own island that is independent and separate from the happenings of the city community. In reality, people attending the university have relationships with identities, people, places, and ideas that are outside of the campus boundaries, and we must nurture those connections as much as we nurture those on campus.

As a result, my reimagined project expanded to accommodate the services and supports made available by city organizations that share the same objectives: to better support community members. With this in mind, my residency project—which has evolved from a webinar to an website consolidating a range of resources for health and wellness—has been able to break down some of these silos between the university and the community. Not only is the website a space where folks can get support, but it is also a space where people can learn more about the incredible organizations and services both on campus and in the city, thus addressing some of the gaps and concerns of my wider research.

Digital scholarship, as I have practiced it, is a means of pursuing axiology over traditional research outcomes. By fostering relationships with community organizations, I have focused on nurturing these connections and communities over an emphasis on tangible outcomes. In other words, a focus on axiology has allowed me to adapt the project into something that better fits the original commitments of the research. In sum, I have felt very grateful to have been a part of digital scholarship transformed into both network and community. Working with other members of the SCDS residency reoriented the logics of just how limited or how expansive digital scholarship can be. You need not be an expert in digital scholarship or technology to succeed. In challenging ourselves to continue reimagining digital scholarship differently and to approach research through interdisciplinarity, we generate a sense of community—in and outside of the university—that defies the boundaries set out in non-digital forms of scholarship.

Collaboration in the Google Doc: A Companionate Consideration

Emily Goodwin, McMaster University

A co-authored essay is a unique opportunity to explore the term “collaboration.” Collaboration has long been identified as a practical necessity of much DH scholarship, and as one of the field’s key values. Despite, and because of, its status as “an essential component in the founding myth” (Edmond 55) of DH, collaboration has not gone unscrutinised, particularly for the persistent asymmetries between project partners (Mann; Anderson et al.) and the contradictions between collaborative outputs and traditional systems of academic recognition (Nowviskie). Weaving throughout such critiques is an attention to collaboration’s “business-efficiency” connotations (Flanders 71). From a frequently implicit but very present institutional perspective, collaboration means “smarter ideas” and therefore a better performance for the institution (Gerstenberger and McCarthy 115). Collaboration as feel-good efficiency is also invoked by our digital tools: Google Docs enjoin us to “Do more, together” (Google), and this platform reigns supreme in published and anecdotal accounts of collaborative academic writing. In this vignette, I linger over the shared Google Doc—used to plan and draft this article—as a scene through which DH training models can better attend to the “emotional politics of research collaboration” (Griffin et al.) and to the agential role of “habitual new media” (Chun) in pedagogical encounters.

As remote residents, our cohort only knew (and in several cases, still only know) one another through shared screens. While the now-ubiquitous Zoom Room bore witness to our fledgling community, it was in the Google Doc that we began to record and concretise our collaborative written work. Throughout this process, we became accustomed to the halting emergence of someone else’s text on the screen: the tiny lags of the cursor spoke to the distribution of our team members, but also to the arrhythmic processes of writing-as-thinking. Typing out potential phrasing can be nerve-wracking; the shared screen stages a particular anxiety of performance and expertise. As a result, we frequently found ourselves adding question marks to signal our uncertainty, inviting others to pick up a particular idea, or adding jokes to alleviate the pressures of the work. These Google Doc affects are somewhat ambivalent points to the persistence of that “business-efficiency” (Flanders 71) model of collaboration, which propels and is propelled by feelings of competition and frustration (Gerstenberger and McCarthy 122). The navigation of these affects, furthermore, is “very intimately connected” to collaborators’ lived experiences (Griffin et al. 5), and thus we need to account for the ways in which intersectional identities interact with the tools, affects, and aims of collaborative work. Graduate DH training programs, which so often focus upon introducing emerging scholars to new tools and research modalities, provide valuable occasions for attending to the feelings that are generated, revealed, or repressed in mediated collaborative activities.

While attending to the emotional resonances of an unfamiliar DH tool or platform is itself a key method for developing graduate students’ “rhetorical, critical, and contextual mindsets” (Opel and Simeone 26), the Google Doc’s status as a familiar, “habitual” (Chun) technology can, if recognised, open up a richer investigation of collaboration’s labour ecosystems. I assume that the capacity for a brainstorming document to become unwieldy is familiar to many; in our co-writing sessions we often found ourselves highlighting, resizing, or relocating text in an attempt to impose order. Eventually we found that we needed a second document to wrangle our thoughts into a full draft. Though we were ostensibly in charge of what was unfolding, the Google Doc made good on its promise to “bring [our] documents to life” (Google). Not incidentally, that promise was cut short by our institution’s decision to decommission Google services in early 2022, prompting us to migrate our draft and notes to a new platform.

Both the (self-)creation of this second Google Doc and its forced re-emergence as an Office 365 document illuminate a wider network of workflow management, communication, and mutual care practices, which are as inseparable from the “final” product you are reading now as they are from the relentless institutional tempos that necessitate them. (Though not my focus here, we might also draw attention to the energy, resource, and storage needs that undergird any efforts for ‘sustainable’ collaborations.) The “articulation work” (Antonijevic, et al.; Strauss) of coordinating our efforts was distributed across our mediated relationships: misplaced links were reshared through email; Doodle poll duties were redistributed as needed; text messages explaining a delay were conveyed to the whole group through Zoom. The work of managing the very occasions of shared work is often invisible, and indeed we became aware that one person had become our default articulation worker when, due to illness, they needed to step back from that work. While “there is no such thing as a structureless group” (Anderson et al. 3), a closer attention to the “material objects we compose with” (LaVecchia 6) offers one strategy for bringing collaborative working relations—with all their affective, relational, and mediated complexities—to the fore.

Throughout this reflection, I have used the word “collaboration” to situate myself in a particular rhetoric and its critiques; in this article’s introduction and coda, we refer to our residency cohort as a community of practice. But as I have thought about our residency for and through the DHSI conference and these proceedings, I have drifted toward the language of companionship. With its long history in feminist thought (Haraway), companionship directs my attention to the people, objects, Zoom-introduced pets, meals, platforms, lands, institutions, and traditions that impact and sustain this work. Companionship also de-emphasizes the timelines and outputs implicit in collaboration; its more encompassing timescale highlights the relationships, materials, and thinking that predate, subtend, and will extend from this particular piece. At root, companionship evokes sustainable relations of care, which honour the quiet co-presence of muted Zoom screens and blinking Google Docs cursors as meaningful contributions to collaborative DH scholarship.

Pleasures, Public Scholarship, and the Passivities of Digital Humanities Practices

Linzey Corridon, McMaster University

COVID-19 reared its head in 2019. Since then, higher education has continued to grapple with the move from in-person and more immediate forms of teaching and learning to building socially critical networks over the very electronic platforms that originally served many of us as leisure outlets. The question of fulfillment as it relates to scholarship, particularly public forms of scholarship, remains rooted in some of our most basic understandings of the term pleasure. If it is true that our contemporary “electronic environment is a [proven] persistent and well traversed area of our common discourse” (Greetham 439), then it is not hyperbole to state that DH remains a field in which pleasure naturally manifests itself in both physical and electronic settings.

Pleasure is often taken as a passive approach in the pursuit of potential solutions to both complex and creative research questions in-and-outside of DH. It is taken for granted as an accompanying affect to research processes. Yet, it is precisely in these affectual gains that pleasure accrues as we arrive at potential answers to a research question or at a solution to remedy a highlighted theoretical query. Such realizations carry with them traces of relief, pride, success. Pleasure and deriving pleasure from this work of digital scholarship are trapped within “situations of passivity” (Ngai 3) wherein we know, but do not relish, in the pleasure of our research pursuits. It is important to also acknowledge that COVID-19 has stripped pleasure from our bodies and minds. Pleasure is no longer what it was—even if passively acknowledged in pre-COVID-19 academia. The pandemic has detached us from pleasures in ways that we may never be able to fully recover. We may never go back to a state that resembles our passion-pursuit projects before COVID-19. That said, any pleasure stripped from the bodies and minds of researchers leaves an empty space, a location in which new iterations of the pleasurable might take hold. If “Digital Humanities is a production-based endeavor in which theoretical issues get tested in the design of implementations” (Burdick et al. 13), then the past eighteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen DH researchers test for new ways in which we might renew and sustain a culture of fulfilment and enjoyment online. We can experiment with bringing the necessities of pleasure back to the research practices and pursuits of the digital, affectual, and relational in order to explore the liberatory possibilities of our collective work.

Given the non-existence of a culture of in-person conferencing and mass gatherings of intimate thought and praxis in a time of COVID-19, DH researchers have been placed in a position that demands we rethink how researchers derive pleasure from the now inaccessible physical aspects associated with our practice. My 2020-21 academic year as a researcher and graduate fellow at the SCDS has permitted me to participate in a series of e-meetings and numerous online workshops. I attended multiple talks online, crafted writing for dissemination via the Centre’s website, took over the Centre’s Twitter account with my colleagues for the Winter 2021 semester, and even had the opportunity to share my ideas online in real time with other curious and like-minded human beings that make up the broader DH community at the University and abroad. Over the past year, I have come to the realization that all of these instances of sharing and community building are not divorced from one another. Indeed, these moving virtual parts make it “possible to conceive of a community as more of a symbolic and intellectual construct” (Mahoney 16), rather than being confined to thinking about gratification and community in more traditionally physical forms.

In a time when it is quite understandable and relatable to feel defeated, to opt to not pursue scholarship given that the world is on fire (and this not hyperbole about the world burning —internationally, in the wake of COVID-19 ravaging South Asia, Indian funeral Pyres dominated western news broadcasts in April of 2021 while in Canada, wildfires ravage British Columbia), I would like to suggest that for those who possess the mental and physical fortitude, it remains possible to cultivate insights at the intersection of DH and public scholarship online. While the physical and partly mental location of the experiences we have been cultivating in a time of COVID-19 have been reduced to less-than-ideal corners in our homes, what remains ideal is the potential that the luxury of being able to interact with each other online affords us.

In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that creating DH work and being able to share that work online has not only allowed for me to practice more public scholarship over the past year, this very work has the privilege of being shaped by a virtually—and I mean virtually as in almost, but also virtually as in our use of virtual platforms to sustain community—limitless series of voices in the form of critical and creative feedback, questions and answers to many of the points of interest in my own research, but also in the research of my peers at the SCDS. What a year of committing to doing the work of public scholarship online has taught me, because there are other pragmatic ways to commit to doing DH in pandemic times, is that the pleasure we derive from doing this work of scholarship in person is vital, but such affective states are not unique or limited to those very moments, which now seem lost to a previous iteration of human society. Rather, I want to suggest that making the move online, producing online and with other folks spread out across the globe, generates a similar feeling of pleasure in me, as I believe it has done in some of my other colleagues. The constellation of work spread across DH and public scholarship endeavors, a constellation that is supported by yet another constellation— that being my various colleagues at the SCDS—the virtual merge between these two initial constellations give birth to a third constellation of pleasure that reinforces our ability to commit to scholarship initiatives amidst this latest global panic. A very peculiar cycle has taken hold over the past year; a predominantly online community of people influence and sustain joint ventures in DH and public scholarship, this very intellectual labour generates pleasure different to that of being in physical proximity to other people and materials that typically influence the kinds of pleasure derived from our travails, and this pleasure in turn sustains me and the DH community that I have the privilege of being a part of at the Centre. Such a cycle of pleasure is not unique to my and my colleague’s experiences at the Centre: I have witnessed other online communities, other constellations of work and care appear across the globe, but always within immediate relation to one another.

These constellations, as hopeful and sustaining as they have been, are pleasurable but also remain imperfect constructs. I think of my colleagues with little to no access to the internet; Or maybe they have access, but they have no readily available devices to take advantage of this access. Then there are others who are ill-equipped to engage with technology at the inhuman speed and degree at which many of us have had to learn and perform in COVID-19 times. These people are ultimately left at a disadvantage and cannot partake in the pleasure that I am describing to the same degree as someone who is unaffected by these challenges. Our newly formed online intellectual community, rich in pleasure, is one that also simultaneously restricts certain groups of individuals from partaking in and of this very pleasure. Indeed, the digital humanities must account for crucial insights being made in the field of disability studies in the Humanities, an interdisciplinary field that considers accessibility “not so much a property of bodies as a product of cultural rules about what bodies should be or do” (Garland-Thomson 6). And so, we as scholars of the digital must continue thinking about how we might expand or revise these seemingly perfect constellations that we have been constructing online since 2019, as a means of making space to accommodate those who remain outside the infinite pleasure realms that is living and working in the digital. This is but one way that we might maximize the benefits of doing DH and public scholarship online beyond COVID-19 times. For the larger our audiences and cheerleaders—and the online space is vast and can accommodate many more people than a conference hall can—the more we practice a kind of public scholarship of the digital humanities which does away with dated notions of pleasurable research methods.

Relational Pedagogies, or the Technologies of Learning Together

Theresa N. Kenney, McMaster University

Click. Wave. Unmute. Care

Our Relational Practice

Constellating Us

The coronavirus pandemic has seemingly mangled our circuits. While our computing technologies, DH methods, and technical skills may have remained the same, many of our practices have shifted including, to recall Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, our online habits. We are toggling. Following Chun, we are updating through new repetitions entwined with crisis (3). Click. Wave. Unmute. Care. This process of logging into virtual meeting rooms has become ordinary to our ways of relating in our personal and scholarly networks. In turn, our research practices have changed too as we have shifted to the virtual. On one hand, these updating practices are due to digital technologies that are very much in line with the typical imaginings and workings of DH research—tools, algorithms, software, and platforms. On the other hand, we are using different types of technologies beyond the digital to do our analyses as well as engage with our scholarly collaborators and networks. In what follows, I reflect on the practice of using non-digital technologies, as exemplified by my residency at the SCDS over the course of 2020-2021. My aim is to name how relational pedagogies, or what I call technologies of learning together, might inform a DH relational praxis grounded in anti-colonial, queer, and collaborative care-filled constellations.

Here, I use technology in its broadest sense as the application and mobilization of knowledge. By shifting toward a more encompassing conceptualization of technology, we can move beyond code and computers to nuance, and perhaps challenge, the mainstream research methodologies of DH. Much like Ashley Caranto Morford, Arun Jacob, and Kush Patel, I am suggesting that there is an overemphasis in “mainstream digital humanities” to “focus its attention on computing technologies” despite there being other technologies facilitating DH (23). Not only does a focus on primarily digital technologies fall into colonial and capitalist systems that create “more expensive barriers to entry for scholars to have their work taken seriously” (Cárdenas 27), but it also functions to minimize the vital ways that digital scholarship cultivates relational networks through practices of training, mentorship, collaboration, and learning together. To some extent, as the pandemic updates continue to demonstrate, these practices have shifted to the very digital technologies I am attempting to decentre. We meet our research collectives online. Our conferences are virtual. And in the case of my residency at the Centre, my access to technical support and digital tools became completely remote along with my research cohort experience. However, this shift online has only magnified the ways in which DH is community-oriented in its aims, training, methodologies, and methods. An intentional emphasis on relation (even if facilitated heavily by digital technologies) only reaffirms the assemblages of collaboration, technologies, and knowledges that are often fostered in DH. Partly then, this reflection explores what Morford, Jacob, and Patel describe as “an anti-colonial approach to digital technologies” that attempts to “recognize, honour, and encompass more than simply computer-based tools” (23).

In September 2020, I joined a cohort of graduate residents. Unlike previous iterations of the residency whose cohorts were facilitated within the physical office of the Centre, we were brought together in bi-weekly Zoom meetings as we worked remotely across Turtle Island (or so-called North America) on our own self-directed research projects. Of those in the cohort, a small collective community grew as we began connecting, peer mentoring, and learning together across several social media platforms as well as our remote residency online spaces. We tweeted. We made Tik Toks. We co-wrote on Google Docs. We sent DMs. We peer reviewed. We followed each other on Instagram. By intermixing the personal and the professional, we developed a community of care and knowledge sharing that ultimately shaped a community practice informing our DH methodologies and research. This network of relation is still exclusively digital and extends across a messy constellation of online networks, geographies, and intimacies. And these ongoing interactions within the virtual community that we have built (such as this compilation of essays) exemplify a DH practice that I argue is a relational practice foremost. Our Relational Practice.

I situate my use of relational here in the realms of digital scholarship that is interested in digital communities wherein there is an emphasis on how the digital feminist and queer work of assembling and disassembling online are described as forms of “world-making” (Smith and Stehle). To assemble into community is to practice a making of sorts that constellates individuals, networks, knowledges, promises, and fissures together, and often carefully though messily. Specifically, in my research, I am thinking about queer racialized digital communities and their relational practices. I approach these particular online assemblages as radically relational insofar as they practice making, transforming, and applying knowledge relationally between those constellated within the community, including individuals on the peripheries of the constellation. By emphasizing constellations, I recall Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg) concept of “constellations of coresistance,” which she argues, work to “create mechanisms for communication, strategic movement, accountability to each other, and shared decision-making practices” for solidarities and community-making for/by/between Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (218). Constellating Us. And as I see it, we can conceive of some intentional collaborative endeavours, such as my residency collective, as exemplary of how to constellate together online in ways that decentre the defining digital technology of DH, and in turn, challenge the colonial and capitalist systems that tend to limit our ability to learn together in our research practices.

Recognizing the role of relational pedagogies takes us “beyond the inculcation of conceptual fluencies, technical skills, and digital literacies” (Morford et al. 23). This move, however, requires us to put focus on the non-digital technologies of DH. And I propose technologies of learning together as demonstrative of many relational pedagogies that centre shared mobilizations of knowledge in specificity and in broader mentorship. In emphasizing learning together foremost, our research practices shift to engaging relationally wherein the fostering of community-oriented connections informs the methodologies and methods of our independent and collective DH research. In the case of the graduate residency, our technologies of learning together began with intentions of the Centre’s Academic Director who brought together emerging scholars into a digital space with the potential to foster such peer mentorship and interdisciplinarity against a backdrop of discipline-specific graduate training. Through relation-building, even if virtual, our collective developed a practice of learning together through the successes and failures of graduate research as well as the messiness and carefulness necessary during a pandemic remote residency.

Coda: Our Reflexive Practice in Pandemic Times

The vignettes assembled here have aimed to advance a methodology of constellation, in which individual reflexive accounts are brought together to draw attention to (and to nurture) relations of care, knowledge, and community. Throughout our work and time together, we have explored the potentialities of collaboration in DH, particularly for graduate student communities, for interdisciplinary research, and for the vast move to the virtual prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These possibilities, wherein pleasure, learning together, collaboration, and slow scholarship guide research, work to refuse the norms of academia by encouraging DH towards that which disorients (Kim 248) and undermines paradigms (Zeffiro 17). We are reimagining a future with more ethical and less precarious research practices.

And yet, here we are, still amid a world on fire (Sharpe 7). Some of us have been gravely ill. Others of us have experienced loss like no other. It never stops. It only worsens. Institutional and disciplinary expectations have not paused to reckon with the multitude of colliding crises made so visible since 2020—since these expectations do not have slow scholarship, as Sarah’s vignette explores, imbued into their colonial and capitalist nature. As a new academic year of those expectations “begins,” and as this article comes to an “end,” we find ourselves reflecting on the ongoing praxis of the community care we have documented here.

These vignettes perhaps capture a year of academic perseverance. What these pieces could never fully distill are the recurring moments of uncertainty, failure, and instability of producing research and digital scholarship during such precarious times. Indeed, the messiness that Theresa’s vignette calls our attention to is immersive and expansive. This messiness is as much physical as it is virtual and it is, without a doubt, a familiar antagonist to the human experience as we try to care for the self and community. If reflexivity is key to preserving community in a time of COVID-19, then we must also acknowledge how this very reflexivity extends beyond our collective. It is a quality that might inhibit others in their time of need. As importantly our reflexive practice has solidified itself as a dominant variable to our collective’s success in pandemic times, but this praxis of the reflexive must not end when the pandemic does. Indeed, there is a challenge at hand, one in which we as scholars and human beings must develop methods that keep this praxis alive. It is after the time of our residency together that we realize our understanding and practice of community have been truly put to the test. And it is our companionship, as Emily emphasizes, that will sustain us as the crises continue.


The authors would collectively like to thank Andrea Zeffiro for teeing us up (and keeping the band together) with her kind encouragement and keen editing, throughout the process of writing this piece and during our time at the SCDS.

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