Author Archives: Shani Tzoref

Roundtable Abstract: Kaleidoscope?

A key component of my feminism is negotiation of universals and particulars, from multiple stances. I see the stances as reducible to two categories: experiencer and observer of/interactor with others. To the extent that computational text analysis opens up new ways of seeing oneself and others, I see it as potentially feminism-compatible.
We’ve learned that computational analysis is not neutral–in all phases, from the formulation of research questions, through data selection and preparation, conceptualization, operationalization, and analysis, human researchers bring preconceptions into the process. A feminist text analysis involves self-awareness, transparency, and responsibility for recognizing, naming, and if possible, correcting for, biases.
As such, I think it’s not only possible but imperative. In our algorithmic digital world, when computational analysis is used so pervasively in ways that re-inscribe and reinforce harmful stereotypes, it’s crucial to understand the emergent methods and to incorporate egalitarian concerns and values into research that uses these methods, and into critical responses.
I wonder also if (feminist) text analysis could be a stimulus to alternative viewing, a kaleidoscope-like supplement to close reading, rather than a telescope. DuBois’s chapter openings in The Souls of Black Folk are one of my favorite examples of showing differently:


Feminist Theory in the fields of Medicine and Nursing

I am writing this in a hospital lounge, with a feeling of relief about my mother’s medical situation, and great appreciation for the medical staff, particularly the nurses. The last time I accompanied my mother overnight in a hospital was twenty years ago. At that time, I had the distinct feeling that the nursing staff felt that our presence as human beings was an intrusion on their professional commitment to tend to the physical needs of my mother as a human body. Tonight, the nurses have been so very attentive, friendly, chatty, eager to explain and accommodate–interactive, personal, and customized to adapt DH terms; social, communicative, holistic, and “caring” to use feminist terms.
I’ve been reading the article by Joan W. Scott assigned to Group 1 this week: “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” so I might have been inclined in any case to think of this noticeable shift in nursing culture in feminist terms. What led me to want to write this post was one nurse’s enthusiasm about the external catheter they were going to be using– assuring me that it was not at all painful, she proudly noted that the “Purewick” was “invented by a woman for women”:

This led me to think about how feminism and medicine is not only about increasing the number of women practicing medicine, but also about changing how all medical practitioners practice medicine. This reminded me of Scott’s description of how the use of the word “gender” in feminist scholarship (and eventually in “Gender Studies”) was in part a strategy for bringing feminist scholarship into mainstream university disciplines like history.
The main aspects of the impact of feminism on medicine with which I was previously familiar were: advocacy to correct the problem of “the default male” as was discussed in our readings for Week 2, in which human anatomy was defaulted to male, and female bodies were viewed as anomalies to the norm; and consciousness-raising about discrimination in medical research and care, e.g., as recently addressed in an episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight: Bias in Medicine: But now I found myself thinking of an ethics of care, as outlined by Carol Gilligan, and found this discussion from 2012:

Brenda Green, “Applying Feminist Ethics of Care to Nursing Practice.” Abstract

“Through acculturation and socialization, caring involves both gendered and socially diverse patterns of understanding and behaving in the world. As a result, the implications for care are embedded in the personal and social values and experiences associated with gender, power, and politics. The general ethos of this paper will explore a feminist care ethic that emerged from the work of Carol Gilligan. This standpoint offers particular peripheral advantages as a feminist theorists’ critique of caring includes the critical examination of relationships from the position of people who have systematically been excluded from power. Although this perspective is theoretically challenging, it offer insights to the significance of caring for the other, the self and the community”

I’ve only begun reading the following article, from the medical journal The Lancet, Feb. 09, 2019. I might want to add further reflections later.

Malika Sharma, “Applying Feminist Theory to Medical Education

“To adequately address gendered issues of sexual harassment, wage gaps, and leadership inequities, medical institutions must interrogate medical education. Feminist theories can help to understand how power operates within our classrooms and at the bedside. This scoping review maps the four main ways in which feminist theory has been applied to medical education and medical education research—namely, critical appraisal of what is taught in medical curricula; exploration of the experiences of women in medical training; informing pedagogical approaches to how medicine is taught; and finally, medical education research, determining both areas of inquiry and methodologies. Feminist theory has the potential to move clinicians and educators from theory to action, building bridges of solidarity between the medical profession and the community it is called to serve.”

The direction in which I would like to think about this for the purposes of our course is: if there can be feminist approaches to medical education, then maybe some of these can be mapped onto feminist text analysis?

“What we mean by ‘text’ when we talk about text analysis”, a view from Dead Sea Scrolls archives

The first time I gave considerable thought to this question was when I was working at the Israel Antiquities Authority, attempting to collaborate with Google to create the first version of the “Leon Levy Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Library” website, which launched in December 2012:

I had no formal theoretical background in structuralism or post-structuralism, and had only passing familiarity with such concepts as the death of the author, or approaches such as “reader-response”. But I had a practical problem on my hands. I had to try to explain to Google that it would be unhelpful to simply apply the label “Genesis” as an identifier for all the hundreds of fragments that remained from a couple of dozen different copies of the book of Genesis, that had been recovered from 3 different caves at Qumran and from the site of Masada. Each of those fragments would need a label, and each of the original scrolls that they came from needed a label too–something that would show that each fragment, and the presumed “original scroll” that a set of fragments came from were physical artefacts.

It was also still important to me to designate the literary content inscribed on those physical artefacts, for example, the Book of Genesis. And it mattered that the text of the Book of Genesis was sometimes slightly different in a fragment from one scroll than it was in a fragment of another, and that sometimes these “readings” were “witnesses” to a different text than the traditional Hebrew or Greek texts of the Bible. I spent a lot of time worrying about what the words I wanted to use “really” meant, but my primary interest was to communicate effectively with my colleagues at the Antiquities Authority, with the Google team, and especially with the future users of the website. I needed to assign practical definitions, and to use terms consistently.

In the end, this is what my colleagues and I came up with, and placed in the “help” text of the website (which I suspect never got much traffic. But the enterprise of thinking about this together with some other colleagues in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls Studies did seem to have some impact on notions of “textuality” in the field, and dovetailed with growing interest in material philology):

What is the difference between a text, a manuscript, and a composition?

text is a unit of writing. It could be a hymn, a legal contract, or an inscription on a clay potsherd. A manuscript is a physical object, the material form of a recorded text. Only about a dozen of the Qumran Cave Scrolls were recovered intact as complete scrolls. Most manuscripts survived only in fragments. Scholars sorted all of these fragments on the basis of physical material and shape, content, and handwriting in order to reconstruct the original manuscripts when possible. Each Dead Sea Scroll manuscript is unique, even if its content is also found in other manuscripts. A composition is a specific literary or documentary entity, such as Genesis or a Deed of Sale, which has been recorded on a manuscript. A composition may be preserved in a single copy among the Dead Sea Scrolls, or found in several manuscripts.