Academic journal article Visible Language

Clues. Anomalies. Understanding. Detecting Underlying Assumptions and Expected Practices in the Digital Humanities through the AIME Project

Academic journal article Visible Language

Clues. Anomalies. Understanding. Detecting Underlying Assumptions and Expected Practices in the Digital Humanities through the AIME Project

Article excerpt

Introduction

An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME) project tried to explore the many discrepancies between the description that the Moderns are offering of their values and the ways they are defended in practice. For instance, there is a huge gap between Science capital S and the scientific institutions. There is almost no relationship between Technology as it is hyped and the ways technical artifacts are actually produced. This gap also exists in law, politics, religion, etc. Such discrepancies raise the question of deciding which version of their values the Moderns are ready to defend: the official one or the more practical ones? In order to pursue such a vast inquiry, we needed to transform the inquiry of a lone ethnographer into a collective undertaking of a community of co-inquirers. In order to achieve this transformation, in addition to the publication of a book, we produced a series of workshops and meetings and the design of a digital platform with the intention of testing and expanding the preliminary results of the inquiry.

This is where AIME project overlaps with innovative practices in Digital Humanities (DH). This meant we had to build, technologically speaking, an on-the-fly experiment that depended as much on the scholarly practices of philosophy and anthropology as on the many new skills and habits of the emerging DH field. Over a four-year timespan, a vast and diversified set-up of technologies1 has been designed, developed, tested, and modified. Some of them clearly achieved the foreseen objectives, whereas others did not. For most of them, we struggled to design their features and to understand their agency. Although challenging from a management and scholarly point of view, this was not completely unexpected. AIME has provided the rare opportunity to craft all at once a new method of inquiry in philosophy, its own content, its format, and a way to disseminate its results, all the while striving to build an innovative relationship with a diversified spectrum of readers. In a more than chaotic trajectory, design practices played a major role, acting as critical and speculative agents2. To understand the role of AIME in the field of DH, as well as what has to be retained as good practices and what should be avoided in similar future projects, we offer here a thoroughgoing analysis. It is an empirical observation - to this extent we will try to adopt the same research posture as the AIME inquiry itself - based on the gathering of different feedback collected with heterogeneous strategies: from digital methods of research to web analytics; from qualitative interviews to an online questionnaire.

AIME and its Digital Humanities set-up

Johanna Drucker (2013) stated that finding a vocabulary - and we would also add finding the meaning (what it is) and the sense (what it does) - of a new technology (and here the new technology is the entire AIME set-up) takes time. During the initial development of AIME set-up, only a few components were presupposed and could be identified via a specific nomenclature. One of these is the principal investigator (PI): Bruno Latour. In one of the first public presentations of AIME, delivered in late 2011, he defined AIME as a collective procedure triggered by a series of troublesome anthropological and philosophical questions. AIME's ambition was to invent a specific medium for an empirical3 inquiry. The inquiry had started 25 years earlier as a personal endeavor 4. Given the huge scope and topic, it now had to be opened to other researchers willing to use the AIME protocol and method (borrowed from William James) in order to validate and expand the results. In this presentation, the moments of hesitation about the medium are clear, and the names for designating technologies and procedure are shaky, signaling something still to invent. Leaving the philosophical community to judge the relevance and quality of the AIME arguments, in this paper we dedicate ourselves, instead, to describing the evolution of these hesitations. …

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