Nodes Without Edges: Peripheries of the Database

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

This paper takes a digital hermeneutic approach (Van Nuenen and Van de Ven) to database research in the field of electronic literature. I analyze the ELMCIP Knowledge Base (KB), a publicly available cross-referenced database of electronic literature that allows contributors to enter and edit information. I consider the peripheries of the database from the perspective of the development, population, and research use of information in the KB.

As developers, we consider it essential to have fields for information that will document e-lit practices and their authors that are as accurate as possible without adding superfluous or problematic information or making the records too complicated to fill out. This can lead to sensitive issues: I recount a current discussion of the use of the gender field in the author records of the KB, combining the community discussion in the ELMCIP/ELO Facebook groups with sources from library science and radical cataloging (i.e. Drabinkski 2014).

The development of the KB is inextricably linked with the electronic literature community, laying bare issues of having community that is inclusive but which nevertheless inevitably has people at its center and in the peripheries. The KB can be regarded as both a service to the community and as an obligation for the community, which is a principal consideration because of its crowdsourced system. I take the perspective of digital labor (i.e. Terranova 2013) to give insight into the processes involved in the maintenance of the KB, within broader academic and economic structures.

Finally, as a result of the development and crowdsourced population of the KB, there are many anomalies in the KB. Completion of documenting the entire field of electronic literature systematically is a tantalizing goal that we know we are never going to reach but nevertheless we feel like we almost have because of the sheer amount of information in the database. The KB has been used in several quantitative papers (i.e. Rettberg 2013) as well as numerous student projects. I reflect on the implications for the structure and practices of the KB for doing quantitative research, by paying special attention to ‘outliers’ in the datasets.

Through these three reflections, I argue for a digital hermeneutic approach to database research which oscillates between analyzing the textual and contextual levels of database practices, between individual and collective. Analyzing the peripheries of the database in this manner uncovers the mutual dependence between the database and its community in both critical and prolific ways.

(Abstract in programme)

Databases/Archives referenced:

Titlesort descending Organization responsible
ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base ELMCIP: Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice, University of Bergen, Electronic Literature Research Group, University of Bergen, Program in Digital Culture
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Hannah Ackermans