Transforming DH: An Interview with Dr. Moya Bailey

It’s been a busy academic year, with too little time to blog and share my work. I thought I’d at least update things a bit by sharing an interview I did at the end of last fall with Moya Bailey, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies, and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University. We had a fantastic conversation on her research, digital activism, and the future of DH. Enjoy!

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[Original interview posted November 1, 2016 on www.hastac.org.]

Transforming DH: An Interview with Dr. Moya Bailey

Dr. Moya Bailey is Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies, and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University. Dr. Bailey is a scholar of critical race, feminist, and disability studies, and her current project focuses on marginalized groups’ use of digital media in acts of self-affirmation and health promotion. She is the founder and curator of the #transformDH tumblr, and the digital alchemist for the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network. A HASTAC Scholar during her time as a graduate student at Emory University, Dr. Bailey has continued to work on the questions and projects generated during her HASTAC term.

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on the phone with Dr. Moya Bailey, just a few months after her term “misogynoir” received a flood of media attention.

During your time as a HASTAC scholar (2012-2013), you were very plugged into the HASTAC community—actively blogging about conference sessions, THATcamp, Twitter news, etc. How did being a part of the HASTAC community at that point in your career affect your development as a scholar and activist?

HASTAC was a good outlet for some ideas I was having at the time, and a good space to archive thoughts about conferences, talks, etc. Also I was connected to other people through that community—it was about the relationships I built and then continued to develop beyond my HASTAC year, connecting with Fiona and Amanda, for example, to do work outside of HASTAC. HASTAC gave me a chance to meet people with similar interests and engage with them in different venues.

[For an example of some of the work Bailey has developed with people in her HASTAC network, see her essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, co-authored with Amanda Phillips. Additionally, Moya Bailey, Fiona Barnett, and Amanda Phillips have all contributed to the #transformDH project over the past several years.]

Your activist and scholarly work is so seamlessly intertwined—from the #transformDH tumblr to the Quirky Black Girls project to your recent work rethinking public health and the biomedical industry. What would you say to encourage younger scholars interested in working within this intersection—wanting to take a sort of public humanities approach to scholarship? How do we as academics move into public argument-making spaces, while still ensuring that we have support to do so and access to teaching forums that are so important to the work we do?

I think it’s about taking risks. Part of my start was due to my own naivety as graduate student at a small liberal arts college. I didn’t fully understand where the work I was doing would be seen, how it would be interpreted by other scholars. I kind of just did it, and it worked out for me. I think there’s something very useful in not having that fear to begin with. What is it people say—“ask for forgiveness instead of permission.” That’s kind of how I’ve gone about my work both as activist and scholar. I would encourage scholars to take a similar approach, especially in graduate school. Take lots of risks and try to find the faculty who will support your experiments.

This question also speaks to why cross-institutional support and networks are so important, which is something HASTAC can provide. The HASTAC community can show you models from many different institutions, and even help you find committee members at other places who can experiment with you.

Your #transformDH tumblr has been around since March 2012—probably one of the longest running tumblrs in existence. Do you think the aims and investments of #transformDH have shifted at all since its inauguration? Can you articulate the original goals for the tumblr?

I pushed for this tumblr, and the tumblr really is my baby. Over the years I’ve been the most consistent contributor, and it’s always been a place for me to post things I feel like DH people should pay attention to. But these aren’t things that regularly get talked about in traditional DH spaces. #transformDH has always been about trying to expand what counts as DH and prompting people to think about different research interests. I want to highlight where work at intersection of digital and race, class, gender, etc. is happening.

In the four years since the tumblr’s creation, do you think the category of “traditional DH” has shifted at all?

This is really what our chapter in Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016 is about—we talk especially about our shift from graduate students to faculty and how that’s created more legitimacy for the things we talk about. We’ve been able to move forward in advancing the cause of #transformDH, but it will be especially interesting to see what the next generation of scholars do with these ideas. What kind of research and projects will get supported? That will be the real test of our work—not our own progression, but how our work proliferates and who else gets included.

[Bailey’s co-authors for the Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016 essay, “Reflections on a Movement: #transformDH, Growing Up,” are Anne Cong-Huyen, Alexis Lothian, and Amanda Phillips.]

If we can move on to some of your more recent research—social media is a big focal point for you, especially Twitter which I think we sometimes forget is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. How do you think social media has impacted the various areas of your research (critical race, feminist, and disability studies)?

Social media gives me access to what people are thinking and feeling in real time, and a close look at how people are engaging with mainstream media. And the very immediate “audience studies” component to social media is amazing. Academic articles take so much time, and it always feels like there’s this lag between what we’re working on and how academia moves. Thinking of the social media space as archival has been helpful. I’m capturing a moment in time through social media.

I’m also interested in tracking how people are able to use social media to their own ends, even beyond what the platforms allow them to do. How people are able to transform things from their prescribed use into things that are ultimately what they need—that’s been most exciting.

Transparency seems particularly important for your research and the way you approach your projects and your writing. I’m thinking especially about your discussion of the Institutional Review Board in your 2015 DH Quarterly article. How does this transparent approach to your methodology align with your research and activist investments?

A key part of my research is questioning the voice of authority in scholarship and all institutions, so I really try to turn those concerns around on myself. What is the role of the researcher? If my work and aims are not in collaboration with the communities I wish to talk with, then I’m not doing the right work. Transparency is essential for creating the kind of research that is of most use to these communities—the communities that are so graciously letting me and other scholars into their lives.

This question seems a necessity give the attention that your term “misogynoir” has received in the past few months. What are your thoughts on having that term go viral and all of a sudden become part of mainstream pop culture?

On the one hand, I’m humbled that people find it so useful, but I’m also saddened that it needs to be used so much. I credit a lot of folks online who have helped this term circulate, like Trudy at Gradient Lair. It’s a weird thing—I feel very conflicted about the recent attention to this term.

Do you think that shifting our rhetoric and introducing new terms like “misogynoir” helps prompt action?

Yes I do. That I’m not conflicted about. There needs to be specificity because the way “misogynoir” impacts black women is very different from the way “misogyny” impacts white women. Our actions need to be aligned with that nuance.

Finally, is there any advice you’d like to pass along to current and incoming HASTAC scholars? What would you like to see the HASTAC community doing more of moving forward?

Collaborative research has to be a priority—really trying to get humanities and computational folks talking together. On the humanities side, there has been a lot of emphasis on learning code and other computational skills, but I’d love to see the computational folks embracing our modes of critical thinking. It’s crucial that both parties have something to contribute. I think in the humanities we’re still trying to convince the computational experts that we don’t just want their tools. We want to work collaboratively! Our goals and our work need to demonstrate that, and HASTAC can be a big part of where that collaborative work gets started.

Many thanks to Dr. Moya Bailey for taking the time to chat, and for the wonderful insights offered. Thanks, also, to Kalle Westerling for organizing the HASTAC Interview Collection.

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