Tag Archives: Labor


Scheinfeldt and Flanders: Alt-ac

Tom Schienfeldt – “Toward a Third Way: Rethinking Academic Employment”

My guess is that Scheinfeldt intended this as an appeal to the DH community – those inside and influenced by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, (Scheinfeldt’s then employer; he’s now on a faculty line at UConn) and other DH loci dotted around the DC metro area. Scheinfeldt is talking to DHers he hopes might eventually take over his CHNM role (hard or soft money allowing), and to the newer academic crowd he might employ in the consistently funded digital humanities positions he describes working tirelessly to maintain. I can imagine juggling soft money to create stable employment beyond a grant cycle was tough work, and it sounds completely impossible from a CUNY perspective, what with CUNYFirst and our lithe HR support. I would guess it helped, finance wise, that CHNM is a separate research center, and built an endowment.

Scheinfeldt’s appeal makes a lot of sense when I consider his role in DH. He and his colleagues have worked hard and made a success of this type of alternative academic employment (which I think is awesome, btw) so it is only natural that he would use his position and this post as recruitment for bright new PhDs to go work for him. It’s not that Scheinfeldt is merely concerned with preserving legacy, he believes this work is just as valuable as traditional tenure track work. I agree that a tenure position is but one of many important roles in an academic institution, and I also lament that it still carries a particularly coveted patena. In so far as Scheinfeldt can be a mentor and enabler for alt-ac folks to forge ahead with the support of leaders like him, I applaud his words.

But I have fundamental disagreements with the tenor he uses to structure his argument and I question whether this post would have any impact beyond the DH community. Let me try to explain “tenor” here. When I read this, I heard someone speaking from experience; a very exceptional, and privileged one. I did not get the impression that Scheinfeldt had a true understanding of the realities of librarians or tenure track faculty. Or maybe he didn’t think revealing an understanding was important to this discussion? Mentions of tenure track faculty and librarians, even libraries, were invoked in rather crude terms, seemingly for the sole purpose of advancing his own agenda (though I agree with asserting alt-ac equality). Last time I checked, the library, second only to staff and students, was at the center of the university. Obviously, I’m biased. I was also not so sold when he brought up soft/hard money, the polarities of job security, and the walmart/university simile.

My trouble with this piece, and why I think it falls short of being effective, is basically my trouble with academia (and it extends beyond university grounds). As a reader who wouldn’t consider myself Scheinfeldt’s target audience (I’m a librarian BUT I’m faculty status), I think the tone of this discussion accentuates the purveying lack of awareness or concern for units (human or other) that constitute a more complete, albeit flawed organism. This absence, in academia and elsewhere, may be partly attributable to ignorance, inexperience, fear, selfishness, bullying, transactionality, the bureaucratic beast, institutional siloing, not enough hours in the day…etc.

When we position ourselves as, or conceive those beyond us as “other” or “outside,” absence is produced. The results of this are felt by many graduate students as their advisers and departments endeavor to mold them in their own likenesses (traditional faculty roles), and as members of their cohort attain competitive and prestigious post docs, followed by tenure track positions. It’s all well and good for Scheinfeldt to preach for alt-ac, but the reality is that people feel pressure to perform and to compete in these conventional academic roles and it’s hard to make a leap without feeling much risk, and the deep possibility of failure. The preening of the academic can be a major exercise in solitude and insulation. And preparing an annual tenure review packet, feels much the same. You are forced to report all of your work under one of three columns: teaching, service, or scholarship. No double dipping allowed, although I would have guessed conveying that my work crossed every domain was a win!

So I think reforming the faculty system of tenure and reward is very important. Scheinfeldt speaks of the changing nature of digital humanities scholarship and work, and I think the challenges of the digital humanities are a proxy for the challenges inherent to the whole university. Fundamental questions that press the academic organism are the shift in scholarly communications, and what it means to do collaborative, digital research. I believe teaching must move out from behind scholarship, and become equally as important. Incidentally, I think Scheinfeldt’s work is great on this front. In my institution for instance, there are a number of pedagogical programs that instructors participate in (beyond classroom teaching) that are usually a ton of work, but also extremely important to the college community – and looked upon very highly by college administration. Yet, translating this labor into the tenure portfolio still requires juggling, and faculty can start to second guess how they choose to spend their time. Do something to benefit the college, or to benefit themselves? This is silliness. The college wants to employ good pedagogues and scholars, so can’t we find a way to reward this in practical terms?

And, for possible context, my position is quite rare for an academic librarian. My faculty status is equal to teaching faculty; equal in the sense that we librarians at CUNY have the exact same tenure guidelines and review as other faculty. This has mostly been a net positive for me so far, and I’ll briefly explain why. Libraries and or librarians are perceived to, and often operate at the behest of and in service to others. Providing a service is fine. But the reality is that academic libraries are more than a service. Libraries have their own agenda, mission, and expertise. Of course, a huge aspect of that is to serve and provide resources, but many faculty can be largely unaware of the rest of the library’s goals and initiatives. One such example would be the library as purveyor of critical information literacy. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel as empowered to put my work at the level of importance as faculty outside the library if I didn’t have faculty status. I’ll often hear librarian colleagues, and have observed myself becoming preoccupied with how to help and serve the college community as if we’ve always been fighting for relevance through someone or something else. I think this is a misrepresentation. I believe we’ve always been relevant but that we have the unique privilege and curse of having much less time to push or advocate on our sole behalf because we are often working to advance others. I think this reality produces many librarians who are keen to collaborate and are particularly receptive of stuff “outside” the library. But I fear many folks beyond the library have much less practice or incentive to improve on this. And while I concede that it can be frustrating for the library to balance its roles, I think, or at least would like to think, that we’ve been working in an environment that is far more complementary than (some) other units of the university have. We could use more of this.

Julia Flanders, “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities

Reading Julia Flander’s chapter after writing the above was kind of amazing. I was particularly struck with this:

Self-consciousness in the consultant arises partly from habitual exposure to infinite variety of beliefs, ways of doing things, and systems of value and partly from the constant projection of oneself into other people’s imaginative spaces. The consultant must identify, however briefly and professionally, with the client’s situation…”

Flanders’ is a critical read and observation of “para-academic” roles. I’m particularly interested with her comments on consulting and observing transactions between clients: the clients’ relief at not having to be responsible for certain knowledge, and finding satisfaction from consultant answers with a monetary transactional dimension. Also, the notion of hourly/work for hire labor versus the traditional academic labor paradigm, and the resulting quantifiable labor and outcomes is a really important piece of the conversation which Scheinfeldt’s piece did not tackle at all.

Keeping this short since I already wrote a lot, any reactions to the following statements?

“By formalizing humanities research practices and rendering explicit the premises on which they rest, digital humanists also make possible critique and change.” – Flanders

Re: the fractionalization of workers: “…it constitutes a displacement of autonomy concerning what to work on when and how long to take…a reversal of the classic narrative of academic work.” – Flanders

Are there exceptional models that we celebrate without daring to imitate? Are there exceptional models we are enacting?

It would be great also to hear examples of how we’ve negotiated our choices around investing time and labor as academics.


Visualizing Impossibility: Thoughts on Lauren Klein

In Lauren Klein’s “The Image of Absence: Archival Silence, Data Visualization, and James Hemings,” we search alongside her for ghosts, silences, and absences in the archive. Over the course of the article, she seeks to illuminate the life and contributions of James Hemings within the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, a digital archive made available through ROTUNDA, University of Virginia Press, and in doing so, discusses the possibilities and pitfalls of data visualization in this process. For Klein, digital technology has the capacity to render visible the invisibilities of archival gaps, and at the same time expose the limits of our knowledge as productive space with which to think.

Recalling last week’s conversation about narrative and database, Klein suggests that archival silences can be produced, in part, by metadata and data structuring decisions (663). This claim dovetails with Lisa Brundage’s suggestion that the most essential word in database theory is the “you,” or human agency responsible for decisions regarding information. In the context of Klein, the locus of “you” as human interacting with or producing an archive becomes a space for determining the nature of archival imbalances, power, and structure—particularly when Klein asks, “How does one account for the power relations at work in the relationships between the enslaved men and women who committed their thoughts to paper, and the group of (mostly white) reformers who edited and published their works?” (664)

This same question of the “you” that must be accounted for appears in the data visualists’ role in rendering information visually, and is part of Klein’s call for a greater theorization of the digital humanities. She states, “the critic’s involvement in the design and implementation—or at the least, the selection and application—of digital tools demands an acknowledgment of his or her critical agency” (668). In Klein’s scholarship, qualifying and elucidating the role of “you” is paramount to understanding the archive, the visualization, and the data collected.

Critique without suggesting an alternative is all too easy, and I admire the way in which Klein posits data visualization as antidote to archival silences and also deeply engages the fraught history of its practice (665). She engages visualization’s vexed history through the figure of Thomas Jefferson himself, who underwent training in early forms of data visualization with William Small at the College of William and Mary. In this section of the article, we gain a sense of how complex it is to engage these forms: can the same tool that Jefferson was so fond of also be a tool for scholars to resurrect the memories and presence of the slaves he owned, centuries later?

Klein also explores the ways in which Jefferson’s note-taking and records use representation in diagrams, charts, and tables to suggest that he was engaged in using data visualization as a “form of subjugation and control—that is, the reduction of persons to objects, and stories to names,” which points at the reductiveness and potential for violence in types of visual display (679). Klein’s portrayal of Jefferson here, as an unthinking white man who recorded Hemings as empirical evidence, to be charted and claimed as thus, is emblematic of the central question of her piece: how can we visualize without appropriation, acknowledge incompleteness, and in a paraphrase of Marcus and Best, let ghosts be ghosts without claiming them for our own purposes or meanings?

Evoking Stephen Ramsay’s idea of “deformance,” or the creative manipulation and interpretation of textual materials, Klein ultimately suggests that rendering Hemings in an act of visual deformance makes legible “possibilities of recognition” that the actual textual content of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson resist, while “expos[ing] the impossibilities of recognition—and of cognition—that remain essential to our understanding of the archive of slavery” in contemporary studies (682).


When confronted with archival ghosts, Klein seems to suggest that the best policy is: illuminate, not explicate. How do you negotiate the difference between these two words, and can you share with us the ways it influences your pedagogy and scholarship?

Is there ever truly a safe way to visualize data, particularly regarding people and especially those who have been silenced, ghosted, or violated, in a way that rhetorically privileges stories and narrative over names and numbers?

To what extent does digital technology provide solutions of access for archival materials, but at the same time reproduce power structures that perpetuate silences? Can digital technology increasingly address this question through innovation, or is this a question of institutional change?

Klein’s argument regarding silences in digital archives seems to address the question of mark-up and encoding, whose granularity is often determined by institutional funding. In a recent conversation, Erin Glass (of Social Paper, an amazing platform for student-centered writing that you should check out!) and I noted that the first invisible document of any archive, institution, or project is often a grant. This document lays out the rationale, timeline, and required resources that shape the development of the project, but it is rarely discussed once secured for an institution, and is often invisible except in gestures towards sponsorship or funding. ROTUNDA is an organization that is part of University of Virginia Press, but whose digitization work is funded through grants. It is likely that decisions of encoding granularity were built into the grant itself and the time requirements of the project.

So, at the roots of the process of creating digital archives, how might we conceive of the entire process–from grant onwards–as a new space to intervene in inclusive, even collaborative, editing processes that produce richer metadata? Does this help address archival silences, or instead offer more opportunities to reproduce them?

Lepore and Bosquet

Of course when I responded to Robert last night and mentioned how there weren’t any other posts up, I didn’t realize that I was responsible for provoking this week! So sorry for the delay.

I already summed up some of my thinking about the Bosquet and Lepore readings on Robert’s thread, so rather than repeat myself, I thought I’d cut right to the chase with some questions.


  • Lepore traces the history of theories of change, from divine providence to historicism, progress, evolution, growth, innovation, and now disruption — “a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence.” One historical theory of change that Lepore leaves out is Marx’s, which in some ways borrowed from Darwin’s evolution, but as we know from our reading and David Harvey’s lectures, relied on a dialectic of many other components. How might we use Marx’s ideas about how societies change to help us understand disruption’s popularity, or to help Lepore debunk it?


I’m making lots of Marx connections today. Bosquet focuses on changing labor relations in the academy, writing: “Late capitalism doesn’t just happen to the university, the university makes late capitalism happen. The flexible faculty are just one dimension of an informationalized higher ed — the transformation of the university into an efficient and thoroughly accountable environment through which streaming education can be made available in the way that information is delivered: just in time, on demand, in spasms synchronized to the work rhythm of student labor on the shop floor” (44). 

  • Bosquet’s notion of disruption is far different then Christensen’s — he’s writing about grassroots actions that adjuncts and graduate students might take to raise consciousness about and organize for better working conditions, higher salaries, and tenure. What role might stronger unions and this form of disruption play as universities seek to address “the crisis of higher ed” through tech innovations, as described in the other readings?
  • We extended Marx’ analogies about the machine, the tool, and the power source to computers a few weeks ago in class. How might Marxist ideas about the role of the machine and technology come in to play in thinking about the mechanization of university teaching and learning? To what extent does the analogy hold? Where might it break down?

Time, Work Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism

As I type this up on Sunday morning, I realize the irony of my tardiness in regards to this piece.

Thompson begins by giving us examples of how time had historically been measured by perspective and a more personal context, such as the amount of time it takes rice to cook compared to the length of an Ave Maria. While reading through these first couple of sections to this, I seemed to hone in on one particular example Thompson gave from just over the hump of Middle English into New English, “pissing while.” Thompson calls it a, “somewhat arbitrary measurement,” but believe it or not this has been studied recently and the conclusion determined that all mammals take about 21 seconds to do their thing. Not making this up. So with that context, in my eyes “a pissing while” is approximately 21 seconds long.

But of course, with this, as with some other examples Thompson has given, there are variables that may alter the range of any unit of measurement, whether it’s the direction that the wind blows, or the amount of physical labor that an individual might actually be able to perform. This eventually evolves into the notion that time is money.

In this piece, Thompson explains how attitudes towards time have changed as our economies have shifted through and beyond the industrial revolution.

So how has time, or the way that time is viewed within our modern societies and economies shifted? Is the 40-hour work week still the norm? Should we shift to another format? Do experiments like those being carried out in Sweden demonstrate that it is time to reevaluated our work week or what constitutes enough time to complete our the tasks of our labor? Does it matter? If so how does it matter to you?


Thompson, E.P., (Dec., 1967), Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism, Past and Present


Karl Marx–Capital

Robert Synopsis   (I apologize in advance if this oversimplifies Marx’s work; I really tried to condense this)

In the selected sections from Capital, Karl Marx asserts that machines, as the conduit of industrial capitalist expansion, reveal the evolutionary exploitation of men, women and children as they simultaneously nurture capitalistic greed. Marx employs a number of sub-claims to support his stance–among them are the following:

  • The machine does more in less time, which increases the capitalist’s greed and presses workers to meet greater demands in less time (work intensity).
  • Machines simplify tasks, which increases the use of child labor and women’s labor and lowers the overall cost of labor (I could smell the underlying patriarchy & rigid gender roles, but we can save that for another discussion).
  • Machines, though meant to serve humans, have come to determine human production (and replace workers), which incites rebellion against the machines first and lead capitalists second.
  • The capitalist metrics of time, value, labor, and intensity are further complicated with the advancement of technology
  • The machine’s evolution over time under the capitalist framework presents an interesting paradox: humans created the machines that would eventually replace their jobs.
  • Machines, like the capitalist, embody a system of self-preservation–just as the capitalist mitigates the use of time, labor, and value to optimize profit for his/her own preservation, the machines eventually create the machines that will preserve the factory model.

Professor David Harvey explains the underlying analytical framework that Marx employs throughout the entire text, Chapter 15 included. According to Harvey’s analysis, technology does not determine, but rather reveals humans’ complex interactions with nature, labor, reproduction of daily life, social relations, and mental conceptions. Even when we apply Harvey’s framework, we still see technology as an integrated, fetishized tool of the capitalist superstructure. Marx, sharing a similar trajectory with his good friend Darwin, essentially argues that technology is an extension of the very evolution of capitalism. The model goes as follows: handicrafts  stage to manufacturing stage, and manufacturing stage to factory stage. But Harvey cautions against a deterministic conceptualization of machines and capitalism; he contends that Marx’s purpose is to elucidate the ongoing dialectic between the capitalist and the laborer. Machines are merely an element in this ongoing dialectical struggle.


The recurring conversation of the growth and development of machines  and their connection with increased exploitation is a critical one, carrying implications of class, gender, age, & racial oppression. Even in the early factory stages, we see fights for reductions of work hours, followed by a subsequent increase in labor intensity that marked the need for more productivity in less time–the new machine’s efficiency as justificaiton for such. With this reduction in physically complex labor came the employment of women and children. Education yielded to the capitalist superstructure, and entire families were now factory employees who, in the eyes of the capitalist, represented one uniform payout.  Marx, more than once, references the U.S. and Transatlantic slave trades as powerful parallels to this factory power dynamic. While the face of both technology and western society have changed significantly since Marx, the thread of exploitation remains constant. With this in mind, I would like to ask the following:

1) To what extent does current exploitation–within the realm of technological production and use–mirror the conditions expressed in Marx’s work? Explain.

2) How has the face of this particular brand of exploitation changed?

3) Considering previous conversations in class regarding contemporary humans’ current relationships with technology and Marx’s key points, what are some predictions you have about the future relationship between humans and technology?

4) Am I the only one who thought about the Matrix trilogy while reading?


Harvey, D. (2011, January 16). Reading Marx’s Capital Vol 1 with David Harvey. Lecture presented at Class 08 in The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York.

Marx, K. (1968). XV. In Capital. New York: Dutton.

–Robert Robinson