System/Système D: Paper Abstracts and Conference Participants

Image of Ryan Ikeda standing in front of a window and wall.

Teaching E-Lit: Electronic Literature as a Pedagogical Problem

Ryan Ikeda, University of California Berkeley

The goal of this inquiry is to clarify methodological differences between DH and Humanities when it comes to the study of electronic literature by examining disciplinary constraints imposed upon the teaching of e-lit in Humanities classes. I ask, how might a digital humanities course teach electronic literature differently than a humanities one? what can we learn about Digital Humanities by analyzing how we teach electronic literature? One way to approach these questions is from a pedagogical perspective—examining curriculum, learning objectives, and teaching practices across Humanities courses—in order to investigate two main assumptions: 1. teaching electronic literature varies across the Humanities; and 2. Digital Humanities differs from these Humanities-based pedagogies. Addressing the first assumption, I examine evidence from three departments at Berkeley that teach electronic literature—New Media, English, and Rhetoric. Here, my interest is less concerned with course content (i.e., syllabi), and more a fascination with how electronic literature fits within departmental learning objectives and also what instructor praxis might reveal about how various Humanities departments makes sense of electronic literature. With our analysis of Humanities courses complete, we can address the second assumption by contrasting DH curricula and pedagogy. This project operates upon the premise that our understanding of what electronic literature is informs the way we teach it, and so, a study of pedagogy is also a study of aesthetic value and role of digital technology underlying each domain of knowledge.

Ryan Ikeda is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, where he studies digital poetics and new media.

Image of Megan Suttie standing it front of a stack of books

What Would Harry Say? Digital Analysis, Textual Results, Literary Criticism, and Harry Potter Fanfiction

Megan Suttie, McMaster University

Stephen Ramsay notes that, from the standpoint of traditional literary analysis, “nothing … authorizes the leap from data to interpretation. And when nothing authorizes the leap, you can leap anywhere you like” (“Stanley”). In this sense – because it is often failing to reach, to convince, and to influence other, more traditional aspects of literary criticism – Ramsay worries that literary text analysis facilitated by digital tools is “failing at its most essential task (“Stanley”). If the cause of this failure is a concern among traditional literary scholars regarding the validity of ‘unauthorized leaps,’ and these leaps appear ‘unauthorized’ because the methods of analysing statistical and graphical results are unfamiliar, could a digital tool which produces textual results – and a resulting conclusion drawing on familiar literary methods of interpretation – succeed in generating literary criticism which would be understandable, and therefore acceptable, to traditional literary scholars? This paper presents a case study which aims to answer this question, albeit with an initial test group of only one traditional literary scholar (myself), by employing a predictive text software algorithm to ‘remix’ works of Harry Potter fanfiction and then analysing the textual passages generated using the method of thematic criticism. This presentation will address both the process and products of the case study, noting the ways in which the final analysis did illuminate the same themes identified in traditional literary scholarship but also the remaining limitations and challenges faced by a literary scholar attempting the work of digital analysis.

Megan Suttie is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Her research focuses on representations of education in fantasy fiction, for which she has received both a Canada Graduate Scholarship (Master’s) and Ontario Graduate Scholarship, as well as holding McMaster University’s Harry Lyman Hooker Sr. Fellowship. She earned her B.A. Honours at Trent, a B.Ed at Queen’s for intermediate and secondary classrooms, and her M.A. at McMaster.

The Art of the Stoplist: Data Cleaning and the Politics of Method

Olivia Dziwak, Ryerson and York University

Text analytic research, particularly of sources which generate significant metadata, often encounters noisy datasets that must be cleaned before their analysis can return meaningful results. One popular method of data cleaning, stoplists, are lists of commonly occurring words that have been deemed insignificant and are thus excluded from analysis. Stoplists frequently come built-in to text mining software—however, their uncritical application can obscure the inherent politics of the tools at use and contribute to marginalization of academic researchers in the field of big data and text mining studies (Borra & Rieder, 2014; Winner, 1980). This presentation locates itself within the effort to re-engage researchers with a “politics of method,” (Savage & Burrows, 2007) and prevent the black boxing of research tools by encouraging custom development of stoplists. Through a demonstration on the construction of stoplists for massive text datasets—including how they can enable iterative research that lends itself to improvisation—this presentation will reflect on best research practices in digital scholarship.

Olivia Dziwak is a second year MA student in the York and Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication and Culture, having completed her BA at the University of Toronto in 2016. In her SSHRC-funded thesis research she is exploring how piracy networks reflect global inequalities in flows of academic knowledge. She is also developing a PhD project examining how data scraped from digital devices during border searches is contributing to new conceptions of citizenship.

Image of Pouria Nazemi standing in front of a brick wall.

Shifting Spaces for Digital Storytelling – The Case of CRISPR Cas-9 

Pouria Nazemi, Concordia University

This paper engages with debates and the changing landscape surrounding digital storytelling, journalism, and controversial science and technology. As Stuart Allan argues the impacts of the digital age and digital technologies on science journalism could be both salutary and daunting (Allan, Journalism, 2011). This is clearly seen in the popularity of social media and tendency to produce short format journalism content for the web, which may sacrifice details for brevity and has (re)awoken debates over reliable sources and the spread of pseudoscience online. To examine these debates, we take a closer look at the case of CRISPR Cas-9 technology and the journalism coverage surrounding this technology. CRISPR Cas-9 is a new and powerful gene editing tool. With this method, scientists could apply specific changes in the target DNA. This method can change the landscape of biology (Doudan et al., Science, 2014). In particular, we build on efforts to develop models of science journalism (Secko et al., Journalism Practice, 2013) and present a qualitative content analysis (QCA) of CRISPR Cas-9 stories as per the models they embody. The implications of various models are explored with reference to their accuracy and their potential for utilizing digital tools to empower different model-based stories. The role of technophobia in digital storytelling is seen to emerge as a key debate for the future.

Pouria Nazemi is an MA candidate at Concordia University in Montreal. Before immigrating to Canada, he was senior science editor at Jam-e-Jam daily newspaper in Iran, editor of NOJUM (Persian Astronomy) Magazine, and editor-in-chief of SIB (a Persian language science and technology weekly). He has also translated ten books about science and journalism from English to Persian.

Twitter: @pnazemi


Upgrade Complete: Technology, Identity Formation and Development in Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion

Isaac Celis, McMaster University

Predicated upon Japan’s economic and technological advancement, techno-Orientalism, first coined by Kevin Morley and David Robins in the 1980s, positions the East as hyper-modern. The West dehumanizes the East due to its consumption by technology, resulting in a culture that is “cold, impersonal and machine-like . . . lacking emotional connection” (Morley and Robins 169). The West maintains its own identity through the East’s loss of humanity. This paper argues against this loss and dehumanization through an exploration of the relationship between technology and the main protagonist of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE), Shinji Ikari. NGE defamiliarizes the typical plot of the giant robot or mecha genre of Japanese animation or anime, and explores the implications of relations with advanced technology: in this case a giant robot. Shinji’s relationship with his EVA unit, demonstrates that rather than being a disconnecting force, enables and aids in the formation of his own identity. Alongside Shinji’s EVA unit are a cassette player and train—which feature heavily if not equally to the EVA unit—in the series and have two functions. They aid in Shinji’s identity formation, but also act as primers for thinking about the EVA unit as a developmental and enabling entity. Lastly, I suggest that this juxtaposition between the various forms of technology calls for a re-evaluation of a stance towards technology due to their roles in Shinji’s identity formation that in turn, disrupts techno-Orientalist thought.

Isaac Celis is a graduate student at McMaster University pursuing his MA in Cultural Studies in Critical Theory. Having grown up with a transforming robotic shark at his side, and the constant presence of karaoke machines, and stereos in his home, Isaac has always been deeply fascinated by our relationships to machines and technology – a fascination that has only grown with his discovery of the cyberpunk genre and mecha anime. He hopes to pilot a giant robot one day.

The Changes of Women’s Position in Literature upon the Emergence of the Typewriter: A Reflective Reading of Kittler and Henry James at Work

Yijun Sun, University of Massachusetts Amherst

In Discourse Networks 1800/1900 and Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Friedrich Kittler described an epochal gender change between the discourse networks of 1800 and 1900, which he argues was precipitated by a media shift. In the sexually closed feedback loop of 1800, women remained an ideal abstraction, contributing to literary production merely as Mother’s Mouth (input) and as feminine readers (output). However, due to the desexualization of writing caused by the emergence of typewriters, the transformed discourse network of 1900 opened the way for the female sex into the inner circuit of writing as secretaries and typists. Women, circa 1900, were no longer confined to ‘input’ and ‘output’ positions.
In this paper, Kittler’s work is scrutinized with the help of a biographical text – Henry James at Work, a text mentioned by both Kittler and McLuhan in their discussions on the impact of typewriters. The writer of this memoir, Theodora Bosanquet, embodied the figure of ‘professional typist’ in the discourse network of 1900, as described by Kittler. Three analogies are drawn here. The position of typists in the discourse network of 1900 is sequentially compared to the position of mothers, housewives and feminine readers in the discourse network of 1800, revealing the subordinate roles of female typists in the discourse network of 1900. Although the materialities of gender structure and cultural production undoubtedly changed in this period, this transformation was less intrinsic than Kittler argues, and such changes require a significantly longer time than he asserts.

Yijun Sun is a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the Department of Communication. She received a bachelor’s degree in Communication and History, and a master’s degree in Communication from Beijing Normal University, China. She is interested in the philosophy of communication and media archaeology, especially how media interweave with science and aesthetics to form cultural technologies.

Smartphone Soundscapes

Jamie Beverley, McMaster University

Musical live coding is the performing art of writing code in front of an audience to generate music. I propose to perform an improvised live coding piece using the Tidalcycles programming language, that leverages audience smartphones to create an immersive and evolving soundscape. In this rendition of Smartphone Soundscapes audience members will connect their smartphones to a local WiFi network and direct their web browser to website that synthesizes sounds on their device at the programmed and algorithmic command of the performer. Audience members are encouraged to navigate the performance space and appreciate how the soundscape changes with their movement. I will project my code for the audience to see (an integral live coding practice), offering theatrics and insight into my thought process. A stereo sound system will support the piece, offering rhythmic synchronicity and low frequencies that are not well supported by smartphone speakers.

Jamie Beverley is a masters student at McMaster University studying Communications and New Media. His research interests reside primarily in the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction and Music Technology. Jamie’s artistic practice revolves around musical Live Coding. He has performed most notably at the International Conference on Live Coding (Hamilton, 2016, and Morelia, Mexico, 2017), and the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (Copenhagen, 2016).

Tempus Fugit: Letters from Another Time and the Mysterious Package Company

Melanie Wilmink, York University

My dearest colleagues,

In May 2016 I received a strange letter. Printed on fine linen and addressed directly to me, the letter from Ramshorn, Gregory and Frum law firm informed me of the sad passing of my uncle Jules Wilmink, along with a water-stained news clipping that recounted his discovery of a mysterious artifact.

I have no such uncle.

Thus began my entanglement with the Mysterious Package Company. Through a series of increasingly elaborate mailings, a story of time-travel and lost love unfolded, culminating in the previously-mentioned artifact and a black, wax-sealed envelope revealing the benefactor who purchased this treasure.

This performance of subterfuge continues through the digital promotional presence of The Company, and email correspondence with the Curator. In an era where electronic media often makes us feel disconnected from the world, what does an aesthetic experience like this offer? Drawing on the histories of mail-art and immersive theatre, I will examine the materialist and virtual qualities of an enterprise that hinges on the lure of a mystery, of stories that are bigger than our own, and of worlds that are more fantastical.

Virtually and physically, a community of individuals is drawn together by these projects—if not in the encounter itself, then by the mystique of shared membership in an exclusive elite—who know that beautiful and mysterious things can walk off the page and into the real world, for a few wondrous, unexpected moments through a simple linen letter.

Your comrade,
Melanie Wilmink

Melanie Wilmink is a doctoral candidate in Art History and Visual Culture at York University, and a recipient of the 2014 Elia Scholars Award and 2015 SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship. Her ongoing research was developed through curatorial work in Calgary and Toronto; Wilmink was the project coordinator of the most recent iteration of the Situated Cinema project through the Toronto-based Pleasure Dome media arts exhibition collective, and co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Sculpting Cinema (2018).

What is Ethical When Using Social Media in Research

Autumn Mayes, Western University

The use of social media data in academic research has steadily increased in recent years, and for good reason. Studying social media opens opportunities to collect data that would otherwise be unavailable. However, this opportunity should be undertaken with caution, as the legal and ethical considerations of this kind of research are still being debated. There are many elements a researcher might want to consider when working with social media. First, what are the legal requirements of what a person can and cannot collect, and what can (or should) you do with this collected information? Emerging API and web scraping technology has increased our ability to pull online data; however, just because we have the ability to do something does not make it legal, or ethical for that matter. Bringing us to our second consideration, what ethical standards should you employ when working with social media, and do you need to complete an Ethics Review to complete research using social media data? Some of the major debates around ethics in social media data include: is social media data public or private data?, to what extent do you need to collect informed consent?, and what is your responsibility towards anonymizing your participants? This talk will summarize the arguments around social media data and ethics, as well as all of the considerations mentioned above.

Autumn Mayes (BA) is a graduate student at Western University working towards her MLIS. While working at THINC Lab (The Humanities Interdisciplinary Collaboration Lab) at the University of Guelph, she developed an interest in the digital humanities, and the capabilities of digital text analysis tools, such as Netlytic (which analyses social media). She is currently working on a project to define ‘Fake News,’ an increasing phenomenon in the age of social media.

Image of Nicolette Stuart standing in front of white wallpaper and smiling.

Designing Identity: The Role of Self-Tracking Technologies in Marginalizing Genderqueer People

Nicolette Stuart, McMaster University

Changing and adapting digital scholarship requires understanding how digital technology reproduces gender binaries. Currently, digital scholarship inadequately addresses the mechanisms reinforcing the marginalization of genderqueer individuals in the development of digital technology. The proposed lightening talk aims to address the literature gap through a brief explanation of how popular self-tracking technologies reproduce gender binaries at the design stage of their development. Self-tracking technologies, from wearables like Apple Watch to mobile applications like MyFitnessPal, are a product of the contemporary movement for self-betterment through supposed ‘objective’ measurement. In designing self-tracking technologies, software developers and their colleagues define what constitutes the ‘goal’ of self-improvement, establish categories like ‘male’ and ‘female’ to quantify aspects of user identity and assume universality between bodies. When they involve gender, these crucial design decisions trickle down into the use, data collection and re-optimization of the self-tracking application to create a cycle of exclusion of non-conforming identities. Considering this, the proposed presentation will do three things: briefly introduce self-tracking technologies, illustrate how decisions made at the design stage of application development marginalizes genderqueer identities and conclude with new directions for creating genderqueer technologies. At the very least, accessible technology design requires an understanding of how self-tracking devices reproduce gender binaries. Digital scholarship faces the challenge of reconciling the quantification of identity information with the increasing demand to move beyond gender norms. If the challenge is not confronted, the unquestioned consumption of big data will continue to discriminate against those with non-conforming identities.

Nicolette Stuart is a M.A. student currently studying Political Science at McMaster University. She holds a Harry Lyman Hooker Sr. Fellowship from McMaster’s School of Graduate Studies. Her interests in digital scholarship include digital surveillance, data sovereignty, big data research ethics, Gender Queer theory, wearable technology and critical data studies.

Image of SCDS Grad Resident Stephen Surlin. He is standing in front of a monitor.

Local Networks: Accessible Offline Networks By and For Marginalized Communities

Stephen Surlin, McMaster University

My research looks to establish a critical engagement with theory around collective memory, prosthetic memory, contemporary design methods (including speculative design and design thinking) and ergonomic design principles for seniors and their engagement with traditional kitchen tools. The design of the tool will affect the motor functions of its user and ultimately affect the outcome of the preparation of the meal they are about to eat or share. The tool will also affect the users’ identification with a culture/cultures through experienced or shared knowledge that is communicated through the formal aesthetic qualities of the tool and how the tool is used. Through my work, I ask: How does the industrial design process for tools like the OXO Good Grips line of kitchen tools change the materiality of traditional tools and their ability to continue to be a part of collective memory? Can new media tools like 3D printing, scanning and silicone molding be used to maintain a balance between significant culturally and geographically specific materials and ergonomic design materials, specifically, soft grip handles for people suffering from lowered use of their hands, often due to ageing and arthritis?

Stephen Surlin is currently enrolled in McMaster University’s PhD program in Communication, New Media and Cultural Studies. Surlin works in multiple mediums including, 3D modeling, 3D printing, sound design, and musical performance. Surlin’s work and research often uses speculative design methodologies to imagine near futures that can influence our strategies in the present. Surlin’s current research involves the positive affective health and marginalized seniors in order to create interactive multimedia platforms that promote creative expression, social interaction and cognitive stimulation to counter the negative effects of isolation. Surlin’s current research considers the affect of Local Area Network’s on site specific community methods of knowledge creation and sharing.

Instamamas: Digital Labour in Online Mother-Publics

Rachel McLean, Trent University

This paper explores performances of motherhood in a digital context, and specifically how mothering identities are enacted on Instagram in tandem with digital labour. The use of social media by mothers has increasingly been explored by scholars, and garnered attention in news media. However, more inquiry is necessary to explore the complex ways that social media, and particularly social media advertising has impacted the labour mothers undertake while simultaneously engaged in home and child care. Using Michael Warner’s concept of publics, I posit that individuals whose posting and viewing on Instagram is centered around mothering form a unique online mother-public. Drawing on the scholarship of May Friedman, S A Johnson, Julie Ann Wilson, and Emily Chivers Yochim, I extend this analysis to focus on the ways that advertising and sponsorship are understood through social media analytics and subsequently constitute a significant intervention into the lives and identities of this online mother-public. Combining a textual and visual analysis of advertisements posted by popular “instamamas” with an exploration of how Instagram’s constantly evolving algorithms work to mediate viewership, I will interrogate how advertisement has shaped this private-to-public translation of the home. Ultimately, while the use of advertising in this context holds financial emancipatory potential, it encourages a performance of motherhood that centers class-privileged, heterosexual, two parent families, intensive parenting ideologies, and works toward the production and reproduction of a prescribed and reductive aesthetic tied to contemporary mothering.

Rachel McLean is currently completing her MA in Public Texts at Trent University in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough. As part of her MA internship she is working with Editions Trent on a print edition of P.K Page’s children’s writing. Her research interests include cultural and digital constructions of motherhood, and contemporary women’s life writing.

Image of Arjun Dhanjal smiling in front of a wood desk.

Unsheathing Scopic Power: On the Bio- and Necropolitical Power Structures of Dick Pics in Gay Digital Cultures

Arjun Dhanjal, Ryerson and York University

Is the ‘dick pic’ a selfie? In what ways does the dick pic differ from other forms of pornographic media? How are systems of biopower exacted through the proliferation of the dick pic? This paper creates a semiotic distinction between the nude photograph and the dick pic, and explores how, in Foucauldian terms, the dick pic functions as a technology of control. I also explore the dick pic as an extension of the sexual encounter, as well as the social conditions—of power, dominance, and aggression—that drive the production and transmission of such a photograph. This paper also introduces an ethical quandary with respect to the study of the dick pic in critical academic inquiry.

Arjun Dhanjal is an MA student in the Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture at York University and Ryerson University in Toronto. He holds a BA in Media, Information & Technoculture from The University of Western Ontario. Arjun’s current research investigates the bio- and necropolitical hierarchies reified by unsolicited dick pics within gay male communities, particularly with respect to racialized subjects. Generally, Arjun’s work sits at the intersections of queer theory, porn studies, and the digital humanities—with distinctly Deleuzean influences.

Twitter: @_ArjunDhanjal


Image of Ethan Jackson smiling in front of a white wall.

In Queer(y): Reconceptualizing the Trans ‘Self’ in an Era of Biopolitics

Ethan Jackson, Wilfrid Laurier University

Trans/gender variant (trans) bodies, stories and accounts articulated in multimodal spaces online may foster counternarratives of possibilities by fusing fragments of the everyday into the virtual. Digitization enables trans individuals to aggregate peer-led, alternative and counterpublic narratives of support, health, well-being, and advocacy. What are new materialities and new meanings of temporalities that emerge from these entanglements within digital assemblages? This paper examines the activity of self-governing trans identities in between the virtual and the actual where a “trans aesthetic” is produced and depicted in “transition videos” (i.e. slideshows/before-and-after images/audio clips, etc.) of gender binary affirming trans individuals. These artefacts together hold archives of new meanings as counterpublics of resiliency and community belonging. Through Foucauldian analysis, neoliberalist dispositifs of techniques emerge in comparison to hegemonic somatic ideals. By bridging Katherine Hayles Writing Machines and J. J. Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place, I invite discussion to include some of the many ways in which trans people “write the body” online as/through artefacts of new materiality within biopolitical entanglements. I argue that these new meanings produced and consumed by audiences within a digital counterpublic offer insight into possibilities of what I call “trans time”.

Ethan Jackson (he/him) is a white anarcha-queer-feminist-settler residing on Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory. He is studying his MA in Communications Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University focusing on biopolitical ethics of queer and trans embodiment through a lens of posthuman monstrosity. Ethan is a co-founder of Plan B Co-op KW, an alternative queer community project by queers for queers, he currently organizes Rainbow Reels Queer and Trans Film Festival and works with the Gender Variant Working Group of Waterloo-Wellington. Ethan is a community organizer, accidental academic, educator and social justice purveyor. He is a tenderqueer areola 51 resident.