The Mangle


(DHUM 70000 – Introduction to Digital Humanities) The Mangle

2 thoughts on “The Mangle

  1. Sarah Garnett Kinniburgh

    Does Horkheimer’s notion of “traditional theory” accommodate the mangle (at least in the history of science)? Tom Scheinfeldt explores in “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” how the concept of the mangle in many ways /is/ scientific or that scientific inquiry historically looked an awful lot like a mangle, or, as he summarizes, “The eighteenth-century electrical machine was a parlor trick—until it wasn’t.”

    As we move away from “traditional theory” in general, though, it seems like Presner wants us to not just to acknowledge social or the cultural elements that contribute to the mangle, but to document them actively and critically. He asks, “What is at stake in exposing and documenting this mangle of practices, performances, conditions, social relations, and disciplinary powers at the core” of DH tools themselves as well as the content, information, or archive? I also think we can ask: What would a project that exposes and/or documents the mangle look like and does every scholarly endeavor necessarily have to address its own mangle-ness?

    Miriam Posner’s “What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities” seems to apply this idea of self-awareness not to the design or outcome of projects or to the structure of fields, as in Liu’s “The Meaning of the Digital Humanities,” but to data itself and data models. She cautions against the impulse “to flatten the world into known data structures and visualizations that might easily be reshuffled into a corporate PowerPoint deck,” from reductive data about identity to the default turn to a colonialist worldview as presented on Google Maps, and calls DH to “stop acting as though the data models for identity are containers to be filled in order to produce meaning and recognize instead that these structures themselves constitute data.” Instead, Posner wants us “to hold ourselves to much higher standards when we are claiming to develop data-based work that depicts people’s lives.” DH should prioritize “interrogations of structures of power in order to develop models of the world that have any relevance to people’s lived experience,” a call for embracing the complexity of categories of data and an echo of Presner’s/CT’s call to pay attention to the social, cultural, and/or material.

    Even in projects not directly concerned with data about lived experience, this awareness of complexity, contingency, or possibility is critical. For example, Johanna Drucker offers “publication date” as a category that is not fixed and whose meaning is not given; publication date “can be considered in relation to any number of variables” and refer to “date of appearance, editing, composition, acquisition, review, distribution,” or else another feature of a text. (The link to the full article:

    All of this is to say: I completely agree that Adorno & Horkheimer will have a lot to say to connect CT to DH and that the mangle is going to be at the forefront of my mind moving forward!

  2. Carolyn

    Garnett —

    A & H indeed have much to say connecting CT to DH. I feel like a cult follower of them as I also have a copy of their great CT work “Dialectic of Enlightenment” by my desk. The takeaway concept from Presner that I look forward to learning more about in class is Pickering (1995) IN Presner:
    the “doing” and “making” in science are characterized by “the mangle” which in [Pickering’s] formulates is a “dialectic of resistance and accomodation.” Heady stuff…

    Thumbs up to the Johanna Drucker mention — online articles have made citations very complicated due to “publication date” and the action of “access” in research.

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