We have little control over what Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms do with our data; software that worked perfectly well yesterday locks us out of our archived experiences today. Meanwhile, apps like Uber and Waze promise us the ability to transcend sovereign boundaries. Access across borders, access to devices and platforms, are based on criteria that change by the minute, fueled by processes that are obscure and powerful. Our group decided to come together and give ourselves the name Precarity Lab because we are all working on the various forms of insecurity, vulnerability, and social and cultural exclusion arising from digital platforms.
Precarity Lab aspires to bring together a network of scholars, activists, and public intellectuals who want to interrogate the digital’s claims to openness. Precarity Lab’s founders include:
- Irina Aristarkhova, Associate Professor of Stamps School of Art and Design, has written extensively on new media theory, online communities, cyberfeminism and contemporary art, and new communication and biomedical technologies within international contexts;
- Iván Chaar-López is a Ph.D. candidate in American Culture traces how contemporary use of drones to track and target immigrant bodies in the U.S.-Mexico border are built on the trajectories of cybernetics and Vietnam-era intrusion detection systems;
- Anna Watkins Fisher is Assistant Professor of American Culture and Digital Studies and writes on art, politics, and network culture;
- Tung-Hui Hu is a poet and Assistant Professor in English and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, whose work examines the materiality of technology and its cultural rhetoric;
- Meryem Kamil is a Ph.D. candidate in American Culture, whose research examines the possibilities and limitations of online activism around Palestinian sovereignty;
- Silvia Lindtner is Assistant Professor in the School of Information, whose work examines histories and cultures of “making” and “hacking” in urban China;
- Lisa Nakamura is Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Culture and Digital Studies and writes on race, gender, and digital inequality.
Our Lab is inspired by collectives such as Deep Lab, Matsutake Worlds, The Petrocultures Research Cluster, and Disruption Network Lab, which model ways for humanities research to be less isolated and isolating, as well as by platforms such as Mukurtu, built to support indigenous communities’ cultural heritage, which push back against the idea that information should be open and accessible all the time.
We are invested in finding ways for critical scholars to create works of lasting value together and also believe that the academic monograph needs to become more collaborative, more fun, and more free. We have been intrigued by the Book Sprint as a tool for book writing that is social, collective, and above all fast. At the same time, we are committed to slow scholarship pushing back against the notion that the digital will make the humanities more “productive.” We value the conviviality and intellectual stimulation that comes from working side by side and are very grateful for the Humanities Collaboratory’s support.
Precarity Lab is funded by a University of Michigan Humanities Collaboratory grant.
Art and Photography Credits
Photo by Silvia Lindtner