The Digital Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin is excited to announce the Digital Field Methods Institute (DFMI), an annual event that will offer new and established researchers opportunities to gain invaluable practice collecting, analyzing, and organizing digital data for publication. The aim of DFMI is to guide researchers as they cultivate techniques for responsible, accessible, sustainable, and inventive research projects that work with and through digital media.
DFMI 2023 focused on exploring digital methods for the study of landscapes: broadly construed, thoroughly contested, and infinitely iterated. These landscapes are multiple and malleable, and they present challenges to researchers to account for ways that landscapes are complex and confounding. In response, researchers need to develop ethical and accessible methods for engaging landscapes in ways that keep open its possibilities.
“Indeed, maybe the very notion of ‘landscape’ has on occasions
worked to suture any underlying constitutive jarrings
and discontinuities, and evoked a surface which renders
that intertwining…knowable and fully representable.
Rather it is that a landscape, these hills,
are the (temporary) product of a meeting
up of trajectories out of which mobile uncertainty
a future is – has to be – negotiated.”
~Doreen Massey, Landscape as a Provocation: Reflections on Moving Mountains
While landscapes may be seen as simple from afar, they are far from simple. We acknowledge the historical practice of landscape imaging/imagining is not the practice of passive observation of a neutral object as traditional representational modes (e.g. photography, painting, nature writing) might indicate. Bound up in landscapes are relationships that cohere locally but also span the globe across many scales and sites. These dynamics foreground that the media through which we engage a span of space is itself imbricated in the creation of what we come to know as the land. Such entanglements include the multiple modes that include culture, technological systems, and multispecies ecologies and more. As such, landscapes might also be thought to be the vast digital networks we inhabit, the extended social relations we experience, and even the contested chronologies we traverse. Landscapes then are threaded with and beyond symbolic complexes that include representations of the land but also its expansions and distortions through our experiences (Percy, 1954; Helmreich, 2009; Starosielski, 2021; Waterton, 2013 & 2019).
As a visual art in western cultures, it is no mistake that the genres of landscape painting emerged alongside colonialism (Casey, 2002) and that landscape photography, in many ways, extended those practices (Ravela 2019; Hore, 2022). Such techniques of representing land through traditional methods to render it knowable, visible, and fixed into a territorial system of colonial expansion continue to enact violence, both slow and severe, on its inhabitants and the complex communities that compose them. These techniques must be contested through practices that affirm multiple ways of coming to know and relate (McKittrick, 2021). Researchers must experiment with non-modern methods that are multisensory, multiscalar, and multimodal through which we might experience landscape not as something to be known and owned but as an emergent and contingent co-composition of subjectivities, materials, livingnesses, and technologies (Mattern, 2016; Waterton, 2018).
By exploring the multiplicity of landscape through practice with digital tools, we aim to reveal the entangled relations and interdependencies between heterogeneous agents–both biological and technological alike–with and through a landscape (Massey, 2006; Myers, 2017; Matterm 2023). In this we turn attention to the affordances of our technologies, asking how perceptions and representations of our environs shift as we take up those technologies and experiment with them.
While the weight of inherited catastrophe bears on how we engage with landscapes, we nevertheless create occasion to swerve from future calamity with each and every engagement (Jue, 2020; Blaser and M De la Cadena, 2018; Kember & Zylinska, 2012). How might we come to know landscapes in ways that draw out possibilities from other pasts to open other futures? Which techniques and practices of knowledge making would help us loosen our grips on claiming in definitive ways? What methods might we cultivate, or nurture, that allows for a continuous reinvention of how we come to experience and know landscapes?
Anchoring the workshops, DFMI 2023 featured a series of keynote speakers whose work intersect with and challenge traditional research methods, each offering concepts and practices that compel methods to swerve towards inventing new modes of inquiry.
Dr. Ashanté Reese
Assistant Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies
Dr. Ashanté Reese is Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. She earned a PhD in Anthropology from American University and a bachelors of arts in History with a minor in African American studies from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Broadly speaking, Dr. Reese works at the intersection of critical food studies and Black geographies, examining the ways Black people produce and navigate food-related spaces despite anti-Blackness. Animated by the question, who and what survives?, much of Dr. Reese’s work has focused on the everyday strategies Black people employ while navigating inequity. Her first book, Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C., takes up these themes through an ethnographic exploration of anti-Blackness and food access. Black Food Geographies won the 2020 Best Monograph Award from the Association for the Study of Food and Society. Her second book, Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice, is a collection co-edited with Hanna Garth that explores the geographic, social, and cultural dimensions of food in Black life across the U.S. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Mellon foundation and has been published in a variety of academic and public venues: Antipode, Human Geography, the Oxford American, and Gravy Magazine among others.
Currently, Dr. Reese is working on a project tentatively titled, The Carceral Life of Sugar in which she explores the spatial, economic, and metaphorical resonance of the plantation in the early 20th century convict lease system in Texas and the ongoing carceral significance of sugar in everyday (Black) life.
Dr. Edgar Gómez Cruz
Associate Professor, School of Information
Edgar Gómez Cruz is an Associate Professor at the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin. He has published widely on several topics relating to digital culture in top journals, particularly in the areas of material visual practices, digital ethnography, and critical approaches to digital technologies; his current research focuses on the datafication of everyday life in the Global South. With investigations into algorithms and adhesive bandages alike, his work mediates across how we come to interact with and understand the physical, everyday objects that populate our landscapes as well as the digital technologies and infrastructures that increasingly permeate them.
Assistant Professor, Design
Jiabao Li creates works addressing climate change, interspecies co-creation, humane technology, and perceptions. Her mediums include wearable, robot, AR/VR, performance, scientific experiment, installation. In Jiabao’s TED Talk, she uncovered how technology mediates the way we perceive reality. She is a member of NEW INC Creative Science at the New Museum. Jiabao is a Tenure Track Assistant Professor at The University of Texas at Austin. Her lab explores the intersection of art, design, technology, and biology. She graduated from Harvard GSD with Distinction and thesis award.
Jiabao is the recipient of numerous awards, including Forbes China 30 Under 30, iF Design Award, Falling Walls, NEA, STARTS Prize honorable mention, Fast Company, Core77, IDSA, A’ Design Award, Webby Award, Cannes World Film Festival Best VR short Award. Her work has been exhibited internationally, at Venice Architecture Biennale, Ars Electronica, Today Art Museum Biennial, SIGGRAPH, Milan and Dubai Design Week, Ming Contemporary Museum, ISEA, Anchorage Museum, OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, CHI, Museum of Design, Alaska State Museum. Her work has been featured on Fast Company, Art Forum, Business Insider, Bloomberg, Yahoo, South China Morning Post, TechCrunch, Domus, Yanko Design, Harvard Political Review, The National, Leonardo, Exceptional ALIEN.