Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and the Digital Humanities

(edited by Elizabeth Losh and Jacqueline Wernimont, University of Minnesota Press, 2018)

Reviewed by Elena Kalodner-Martin


"Objects can be easily digitized and shared and reshown online, but feelings and sentiments and bodies not so much."

— Brian Getnick, Alexandra Juhasz, and Laila Sakr, 2018, p. 225


Brian Getnick, Alexandra Juhasz, and Laila Shereen Sakr's Ev-Ent-Anglement piece explored art and theory through a collaborative reflection about what it means to affectively and physically interact with texts. Here, affect is a performative and perception-based experience that calls on the digital humanities to value art, playfulness, and disturbances of time, space, and location. Dorothy Kim also brought in a theory of entanglement to describe how archival work is deeply sensorial and thus embodied, a drive through pleasure toward vision, touch, smell, and sound (p. 250). However, the emotional and affective components of archival labor are often compounded by systemic inequality, both in terms of who is included in documents and in terms of who can access and (re)construct them. Susan Brown extended a view of affective labor to explore gender's absent presence in DH discussions and methodologies. This inattention, she pointed out, furthers how the feminized nonprofessional 'service' sector associated with 'emotional labor' contributes to a perception of service activities as aligned with instrumentalism and thus distinct from defining digital humanities activities (p. 267). By highlighting delivery as an affective and embodied act, Brown argued, we may better account for the gap between how the digital humanities have traditionally valued instrumental and intellectual labor differently.


Within this section, authors explored how the perceptive, sensorial, and emotive realms of DH work may begin to address some of the field's silences and ruptures, most notably those between theory/practice (Getnick et al.), the material/discursive (Kim), and the servile/liberal arts (Brown). While feminist theory and contributions—particularly those with an intersectional lens—have been present but not explicitly engaged in discursive framing of the field, affect offers an avenue to center the voices, bodies, and experiences of those historically not given the time or space (Brown, p. 263).

This section explored how visceral and emotive forces join often-theorized disembodied aspects of data to the physical bodies it affects and is affected by. Like the title of the collection suggests, this section worked particularly closely with embodiment to demonstrate how bodies of information form and why this theoretical angle honors a feminist commitment to showing how feelings, sentiments, and bodies develop and move (Getnick et al., p. 225). Since these affective states often tie technologies, bodies, and institutional practices together, Affect functions as a bridge between some of the other boundary objects highlighted in this collection, particularly materiality, embodiment, and labor. Grounding more theoretical notions of affect in concrete explanations of presentations and projects, this section helpfully displayed how an interdisciplinary approach can support ethical DH work.