No signal without symbol: decoding the digital humanities

Berry, David, Fazi, Beatrice, Roberts, Benjamin and Webb, Alban (2017) No signal without symbol: decoding the digital humanities. In: Debates in Digital Humanities. University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota. ISBN 9780816677948 (Submitted)

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This chapter outlines signal processing as the paradigmatic model of knowledge production in the digital humanities. Drawing from information theory, and from Wolfgang Ernst’s understanding of signal as “the physical layer below symbolically expressed culture”, we adopt the idea of signal processing as a way of thinking about the encoding and quantifiable analysis of culture often undertaken in DH. Like others, we see dangers in a vision of the digital humanities as signal processing. We argue that the lens of information theory can help us to assess and develop critical work in the digital humanities and, therefore, make a meaningful contribution to digital public culture. In common with Alan Liu and Alexander Galloway, we worry that DH might tacitly conform to what Antoinette Rouvroy calls “the ideology of big data”, that is, the idea that signal (data) and signal processing (data analysis) can be substituted for symbolic interpretation and fully account for knowledge production. Our contention is that symbol and signal need instead to be thought together, and that to do so should change the way in which we think the importance of method and theory in the digital humanities.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Humanities Lab
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics > P0087 Communication. Mass media
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Depositing User: David Berry
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2016 14:36
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2017 20:10
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