The conference Digital Arts and Culture is meant to combine various people from various fields in order to talk and work. It’s interdisciplinary. It also seems to combine people who are in multiple disciplines. It’s multidisciplinary. Unfortunately, the result has similar pitfalls to the standard woes of disciplines. Namely: a) you go to what you know b) there are multiple sessions at any given time c) these sessions roughly break down into humanities, arts and computer science. These three end up meaning that the three groupings have much more limited interaction than might otherwise happen.
I have two examples to elaborate.
On the first day there was a panel on Software Studies. In it Aden Evens gave a talk on Programming and Fold (or Edge as he changed it to). The talk was interesting, but it was to a room filled with programmers who were mumbling and stirring in anger during the first half of his talk saying “wrong wrong WRONG!” to themselves and each other. This was offset by the second half when all of the sudden something clicked and they suddenly became interesting as he moved to the second part that he was trying to connect. However, the q/a consisted primarily of people taking him to task for various ways
Now, there are two things that are important here. Aden Evens is, apparently, a humanistist (yes, it’s a clunky word and there might be something better). He has time spent coding, so he’s done his work enough to talk about the programming side and, importantly, present on a panel that’s slightly more focused on the programming side. The second is that he was largely alone in that room as his fellow humanitists were likely off in the embodiment and performance session.
The result is that the two sides did not really interact and the place where they did interact was as if in enemy territory. Even though there was discussion, it was slightly at odds.
The second example is when I presented on the second day. My own talk had been accepted in both the Future of Humanist Inquiry (humanitist) and Software Studies (programmers) sections, but for various reasons I went with the Software Studies side. At my panel there were four people:
- Scholarly civilization: utilizing 4X gaming as a framework for humanities digital media
[Elijah Meeks, University of California, Merced]
- Shaping stories and building worlds on interactive fiction platforms
[Alex Mitchell, Communications and New Media Programme, National University of Singapore]
[Nick Montfort, Massachusets Institute of Technology]
- Translation (is) not localization: language in gaming
[Stephen Mandiberg, University of California, San Diego]
- Seriality, the Literary and Database in Homestar Runner: Some Old Issues in New Media
[Stephanie Boluk, Department of English, University of Florida]
Of note is that my panel consists of one “refuge from the humanities theme,” one critical geographer, myself (who chose this option and tailored intendingly), and a cs oriented twosome doing slightly more typically programmer things.
The result (and the opposite of the first example) is that questions and discussion was geared completely toward the programming talk. There were some humanitists in the room (I saw them) but they all tended to leave to go in and out. Of the 20 minutes of Q/A 18 or so were discussion about the IF presentation. No questions went to the critical geographer. Now, this might be considered a matter of bitching, but i’m really trying to say it’s a matter of disconnect.
For instance, one of the lines of questions into the IF discussion was focused on the movement and particularities of platforms, programming and possibilities of moving between platforms. This is localization, the exact topic that I had been discussing and in a very similar way to which I had been discussing. So similar, in fact, that the chair and I had a glance at eachother before I felt the need to jump in and point out some of the problems with what they were discussing. This is discussion as it should be, yes, but it is also disconnect that the completely obvious link.
DAC then is interdisciplinary, fine. But it’s also very fragmented by the mentality of doing what’s comfortable, going to the talks that you know, and of course, mingling with the people who are like you.