Distant Reading, Race, and Gender

Topics top of mind from this week’s readings:

distant reading. 

historical context and perspective.

big data.

text analysis.

gender and text analysis.

race and text analysis.

sexual harrassment and misappropriation of power.

the gender and race docs were interesting (most interesting) to me this week; both strongly expressing that even distant reading can produce data that can be misread to the advantage of proving a prior theory. what should be undertaken (according to these authors), in the course of conducting this research, is an examination of how certain collections have come to be, and how they may represent falsely distinct collections. using the examples of “white” and “black” race or “male” and “female” gender, we can see that quite a lot is missing from these attributes. not only the affect of identity intersectionalities, but also the definition of what these terms mean in a cultural context from time period “x” to time period “y”.  

I thought the gender piece very clearly presented the case for more flexible gender classification and the case against a binary gender mindset and against the conflation gender and sex. the analogy of gender to genre was particularly successful as an aid. Likewise the race piece argued that while it’s possible to find clear commonality among white authors and among black authors, the numbers on closer inspection show the very slight percentage that makes up the difference, and the reason for the separation in texts’ indicators is not quite as clear as it seems when reading the high-level findings of the data. 

distance reading, text analysis can provide such a wealth of insights and with the expansion of computational power the possibilities for scholarly discovery are immense.  but this area of research going forward will be best served by attention to context, history, and representation in order to provide information that is as holistic and evenly considered as possible. 

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