Though reading Sarah Ahmed’s ‘living a feminist life’ (2017) taught us the direction of feminist empiricism and importance of the embodiment of feminist sense in reading the text the conventional feminist text analysis that we discussed in the class doesn’t seem to clearly manifest the sensorial dimensions of feminist’s experience — especially in relation to the sensoriality of trauma in women’s bodies and writing. For this missing investigation my presentation in the panel would like to discuss the significance of graphic analysis in Johanna Drucker’s scholarship and artistic projects (that deal with women’s artists’ books and their graphic presentation of subjectivity) first. And this will be supported by my recent reading of Nathalie M. Huston’s suggestion of graphic analysis through the computational program that I argue that can be applied toward the feminist analysis of women’s contemporary experimental poetry that incorporates the typographical and otherwise visual elements of writing poetry in referring to their experience of gendered trauma. My panel presentation will argue that feminist text analysis will need to consider this element for their range of endeavor and push forward the benefit of computational text analysis in pursuing that approach. As a case study I’d like to propose a computational text analysis of gendered trauma in Susan Howe’s poetry.
There already is feminist text analysis so far as we acknowledge it as an open space for practices and interpretations that necessarily adapt and transform. We will face the same difficulty imagining a singular or static feminist text analysis as we would applying those characteristics to feminist theory itself.
The question of whether there can or cannot be feminist text analysis may be flawed. Its problem, as I see it, is attention toward an elusive end. What if finality is incompatible with the process? Should that really come as a surprise? Feminist text analysis, like feminism, is not a static program but a process.
Perhaps the question should be, ‘how can your text analysis be feminist?’ If so, the answer will have something to do with a heterogeneity of techniques being circumstantially constructed. Some of these will serve to preserve practical gains and others will work to create theoretical tensions, because feminist theory is a fluid and situational thing.
I wish to warn the panel that the workings of dominant social institutions too often become analogies used to measure and disregard activities that stem from fundamentally different politics. If we accept the restriction of having to name some definitive feminist text analysis that can or cannot be, we are in danger of mistakenly allowing the epistemological models of the state and the patriarchy into an analysis of alternative tactics.
Can there be such a thing as “feminist text analysis”?
What is the theoretical purview of feminist text analysis? I find it hard to put frames around a field of humanistic inquiry which by virtue of its disobedient nature is unframeable. Feminist text analysis, much like feminism is a transient and iterative materialization of feminist thought through which the humanities critically investigates the hegemonic standpoints of knowledge in contrast to non-hegemonic standpoints. Although we cannot articulate a specific definition of feminist text analysis, we can identify certain dependable theoretical spaces that it occupies in humanities discourse. Feminist text analysis is an ‘interpretively open’ space. it is a space to critically engage narrow frameworks of ‘white male universality’ as the standard of human experience. It is a space that recognizes processes of knowledge creation equally as processes of knowledge curation in which data is not objective but situationally bound to hegemonic narratives – in which behind all macro-digital infrastructures are algorithmic black boxes which hold the views and biases of the people who built them. Feminist text analysis is also a space of positive representational revisionism. it is a space that engages with the tangents of human intersections and the plurality of human experiences as one humanity. It investigates the blind spots of traditional frameworks in which the representation of women, people of color, and outlier data is often eclipsed by the desire for narrative continuity and empirical analysis. feminist text analysis does not shave or flatten data to fit into boxes of conformity but looks at data fully in the round. It does not simply reduce it to alpha-numeric and graphical primitives but visceralizes .
However, I don’t know if there can be feminist text analysis outside of the theoretical realm.
The question is if we can’t escape our own biases as humanists and we can’t pry open those algorithmic black boxes unless we build our own analytic systems from scratch, how can we truly achieve feminist text analysis? we can theorize ad nauseum but how will we operationalize our feminist text analysis when we cannot control for our unknowns?
The words that computers so quickly and easily count, but balk at disambiguating, take on, for feminist theorists, multiple values and flavors of implication in open-ended arenas of power dynamics and shifting identities, where imbalances and injustices are reinforced in subtle, sometimes devious, but often unconscious ways. Although computer systems easily handle multitudes of relationships and categories, they struggle to adapt to the terminological and categorical fluidity and multidimensionality that feminist investigation highlights.
That said, in practice, there is reason to be sanguine about the potential of feminist text analysis. One key function of feminist criticism is to “out” biases embedded in textual output, the presence and absence of crucial perspectives, and to bring into question the power dynamics surrounding social and material conditions of said output. Text analysis has demonstrated its ability to quickly deconstruct and reorder text in service of intentional inquiry, which allows for analysis of large groups of text and gives feminist investigators more tools for “unsettling deep-seated ideologies” (Rhody, 2016).
By focusing on exploration, investigation, and a critical orientation towards methods, data and conclusions, I argue that not only is feminist text analysis valuable but that, considering the black box nature, and clear bias, of ubiquitous textual systems like Google Search (see Noble), the cost of not engaging in feminist text analysis might prove too high.
One of the advantages of bringing a feminist perspective to computational text analysis is that it forces text analysis to expand its scope. A feminist perspective does not merely bring into the field a different approach, among the many that exist, but it transforms the foundations of computational text analysis. In this sense, if you do computational text analysis from a feminist perspective your approach will encompass an ontological, epistemological, methodological, and empirical standpoint. What are the questions that feminism will ask using text analysis? Issues of power, inequality, intersectionality, marginalized groups, oppression, or discrimination. The questions and the topics are not neutral or objective or universal as more mainstream computational text analysis will imply but are all questions that are asked from a particular standpoint.
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:
The moment you define the parameters for a feminist text analysis, they will be outdated. Feminist changes. Text changes. And analysis changes. Identities are not stable; rather they are constantly being iterated and changed by the factors around and outside them. An analysis that seeks to make sense of patterns will capture truth in one snapshot and falsity in another.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
I have been thinking through Ralph Ellison’s line: “it was either to live with music or die with noise.” Text analysis aims to pull music from noise; feminist text analysis realizes that whether or not one “finds music” depends on the voice of the musician and the ears of the listener. And that a definition of music will never bring as much fodder for mind and spirit as will an experience of music.
There need not be a definitive arrival point to signify Feminist Text Analysis. In fact, such a point would bely the iterative nature of feminism, text, and analysis. But projects that acknowledge and thoughtfully codify instability, multiplicity, and other feminist ideals bring us closer to feminist text analysis.
Houston’s piece represents my first encounter with an article that applies computational text analysis. Computational text analysis cannot replace rich, deep qualitative and ethnographic narratives, but it can abstract large bodies of text that an individual could not observe and produce consistent diachronic descriptions of context. Though perhaps the scope is not very sophisticated compared to other methods, it can be useful when combined with other methods and data.
I reproduce below some key ideas from the article to understand what CTA does and how:
Feminist Computational Criticism: involves a reflection on not only the object of study, e.g. Victorian women’s poetry, but also on the decisions to make selecting the dataset, conducting analysis, and interpreting the results.
Text Analysis: the predominant analytical method in literary studies is close reading. The primacy of the text in “service of a larger theoretical approach.”
Distant reading: “examines the socio-cultural systems of value that produce the very category of literature itself.”
Analysis: use of free open software: Antconc, a corpus analysis tool, and the R programming language and libraries. Sample: 1,284 poems in Stedman’s anthology.
Unsupervised methods of machine learning: “a form of distant reading that can bypass some biases of human judgements. Unsupervised machine learning algorithms harness the computer’s pattern-matching power to reveal semantic patterns in texts, without any predetermined instruction in what to look at or what is significant.”
Topic modeling: “approach to understanding large sets of texts using an unsupervised machine-learning algorithm that implements an iterative, probabilistic assessment of word-occurrences in the documents in the corpus (…) it gathers information about which words co-occur in the same document, and the probability that those same words would co-occur in another document of the corpus.”
What kind of discourses or themes are present in the volume? Topic model “can help us examine semantic patterns in large sets of texts to see what kinds of discourses are present.”
Topic: “words that co-occur in documents at a greater than average probability together make up a topic, a cluster of semantic meaning.”
“The programmer selects the number of topics that the algorithm will locate in the corpus (…) the algorithm was programmed to discover 15 topics.”
Stopword: “stopword list was applied to the corpus before modeling it, excluding common articles, pronouns, and numbers.”
Black feminist scholar, Patricia Hill Collins, popularized intersectionality in the nineties. Carastathis makes a detailed intellectual history of intersectionality pointing when it was introduced for the first time and what conceptual predecessors it has. Intersectionality aims to encompass multiple forms of inequality that are organized via a similar logic, to encompass in a single word the simultaneous experience of multiple oppressions. Carastathis highlights four analytical benefits of intersectionality as a theoretical paradigm and research methodology: simultaneity, complexity, irreducibility, and inclusivity.
Simultaneity: the author refers to simultaneity as the nonfragmentation of a phenomenological experience. Intersectionality as a knowledge project seeks to explain the ways in which multiple dimensions of inequality intersect and co-create one another in social life and in institutions. It points out that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive categories, but are always intertwined with one another
Irreducibility: intersectionality moves beyond a mono-categorical focus on inequality. Traditional approaches to study inequality foreground a single dimension of inequality such as race or class and conceptualize these processes as parallel. Intersectionality points out that race, class, gender, age, ability, nation, ethnicity, and similar categories of analysis are best understood in relational terms rather than in isolation from one another. It favors interpretative tools that can show the relational complexity of things, that indivisibility is important – therefore intersectionality does not simply add new variables.
Complexity: intersectionality introduces a greater level of complexity into conceptualizing inequality. Asking questions about, for example, how racial inequality works in the US, we will not understand or capture the complexity of racial inequality if we do not consider how citizenship, ability, sexual orientation, race, and other ways in which human beings are categorized and organized work together to produce inequality.
Epistemic standpoint: Individuals and groups differentially placed within intersecting systems of power have different points of view on their own and others’ experiences with complex social inequalities, typically advancing knowledge projects that reflect their social locations within power relations.
Intersectionality as praxis, social justice: intersectionality is positioned in the academic literature and in activism as a critical social theory. It not only describes how inequality works but makes interventions and thinks about how we can make the world a better place. Intersectional scholarship is explicitly committed to social justice.
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”: https://agilisit.com/podcasting/purewick-ceo-dr-camille-newton-talks-about-her-roller-coaster-ride-from-rejections-to-successful-exit-and-everything-in-between/.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TATSAHJKRd8. 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?
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?
A 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.