Not a Standard Community: My HASTAC V Experience

I’m grateful for the timely and thorough coverage of the other HASTAC Scholars and affiliates who have offered an invaluable resource for posterity and for those unable to attend HASTAC V, and it is because of their work that I am able to write a more personal account of the time I had at the conference. This, I feel, is an important perspective given the conference’s theme and our recent work building a #transformDH movement. And honestly, though I’ve been part of the Scholars program for several years now and have always been grateful to and enthusiastic about the collaborative community facilitated by the people and structure of HASTAC, it was in Ann Arbor that I really fell in love with the organization and its participants. (NOTE: Since I’m composing this on my ipad, I won’t be able to post any links to things… I’ll come back and edit this later tonight from a real computer!)

Those of you following the blog will remember the conversation on Community Standards that took place over Thanksgiving weekend centering around the HASTAC administration’s decision to remove the controversial flyer of performance artist Elle Mehrmand from the blog of Micha Cárdenas. For many of us involved in the conversation, this action was an unconscionable violation of a scholarly space that had always been particularly useful for showcasing risky scholarship and experimental work. We descended on the blog in righteous fury, gearing up for what we (or I, anyway) expected to be an epic war of words with administrators who had maybe grown too big and accountable to public opinion to bother with scholars and artists on the fringes anymore. What we got instead was a respectful and thrilling dialogue that you can still read.

On top of that, Micha and I had the great honor of speaking about this issue with the HASTAC Steering Committee at their meeting in Ann Arbor, and to my absolute delight we were met with nothing but words of support and encouragement from the very folks we had been challenging online. I have to admit some of the nametags in that room made my heart stop a bit (that’s the swooning DH fanboi in me I guess), but the warmth the Steering Committee had for the Scholars program in general and their anti-censorship reps in particular was as (unfairly) unexpected as it was necessary for my continued faith in the program.

You see, what I came to understand through the misunderstanding over Mehrmand’s flyer is that when HASTAC members repeat Fiona Barnett’s mantra that difference is our operating system, they actually mean it. In a moment in which female/queer/of color/graduate students/artists/rabblerousers might have justifiably (according to some logics) been dismissed with a lecture about funding and parent organizations, members of the Steering Committee thanked us for taking a stand, apologized for causing us grief, and pledged to figure out a way to rewrite the Terms of Service in a way that looks out for even those of us on the fringe. I don’t know if the solution will be perfect, but after the meeting I believe that the interests of anyone with concerns about the future of HASTAC will be taken into consideration – indeed, we’ve been told that the process of creating a new Terms of Service will be transparent and open to comment from the community. I’m looking forward to participating in this wonderful new step for our network of networks.

That meeting set the tone for the rest of the weekend: though there were tense moments and disappointments related to certain speakers, paradigms, and projects, and though the #transformDH crew, at least, feels there is a lot more work to be done to ensure the participation and showcasing of more work driven by social justice and underrepresented communities, it seems that the HASTAC Difference Engine is one promising motor to which we can attach our little #transformDH train cars.

You can see from the other Scholars’ posts where interventions are happening and where they are needed. I’m just here to tell you you should tooooootally get onboard. A huge thanks, as always, to Cathy Davidson, Fiona Barnett, and the other HASTAC administrators who work so hard to make the Network and its events operate so smoothly.

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