Help Wanted: A (Tenure-Track) Cyborg Manifesto
by Suzanne Scott — Department of Radio-Television-Film, UT Austin
April 19, 2013 – 22:15
My approach to this question is both pragmatic and personal, but hopefully it speaks to the lived realities of the sort of Boolean “AND” integration that Jason Rhody points to in his response. The (slightly modified) question I’m currently grappling with is “What are the differentiations and intersections between a job in media studies and the digital humanities?” It’s vital to consider how these fields are diverging and converging, but we also need to begin furthering the conversation about how to institutionally value and support an evolving vision of media studies informed and inflected by the digital humanities.
After receiving my Ph.D. in Critical Studies from USC in 2011, I took a position as a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoc in the Center for Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College. This fall, I’ll be joining the Film and Media Studies faculty at ASU as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. These positions, while similarly focused on the cultural impact of digital technologies, are vastly different in scale and substance. My commitment to multimedia argumentation and technopedagogy will need to be adapted, not abandoned, as I move from a SLAC environment to the largest public University in the country. I’m equally unwilling to abandon the digital humanities affordances (the embrace of open, born-digital, and transformative scholarship; the emphasis on collaboration across disciplines and institutions; the ethos of “productive failure”) I’ve only begun to explore.
Erin Copple Smith has offered some concrete strategies towards “Making Online Labor ‘Count’ for the Tenure Case”. The questions that inevitably populate media studies conference roundtables on the digital humanities about how to document, frame, balance, and value emergent or invisible forms of labor are daunting and aren’t going away. Those who are committed to a cyborgian future for media studies need to be asking a different set of questions, ideally during phone interviews and campus visits. Does your tenure and promotion committee have a system in place for evaluating digital projects or multimodal scholarship? Would you be willing to negotiate terms in my contract to make space for innovative scholarship? And those on the other side of the table need to be ready to answer.
Many of us are ready to do the risky thing and there are a growing number of allies in media studies ready to have our back. But it’s not enough. In the DH tradition, we need to share tools and ideas that will help wed the social reality of the tenure-track model to the s/f potentials of media studies as a discipline, even as we continue to search for a common language and move beyond dualisms.
Image on front page by The Year of Mud and available on Flickr.