Knowledge Machines: The Potential of the Digital

Symposium on alternative practices in humanities research


Enabling affirmative and interdisciplinary epistemologies for an unfolding Humanities

Even in today’s market-driven education system where a commonplace (self-) diagnosis for the humanities is that its condition is critical, the knowledge machines are far from broken. Socially relevant knowledge is produced, disseminated and consumed in a variety of creative ways, in which digital tools and methodologies increasingly play an important role. The question remains, how can the humanities, through the digital, or the digital with the aid of humanities critique, act as a disruptive (political) force? In what sense can the digital humanities aid in reinterpreting the humanities (in a continuous process that stretches beyond the digital)? In order to establish where the importance of experimental digital work for humanities scholarship lies, this symposium wants to explore how we can use digital tools and technologies in a critical way to enhance and improve our scholarly practices and our communication systems. Through the digital we have the opportunity to critically investigate and question the value of our established institutions and practices and, vice versa, through critique we can analyse and transform the digital to make it abide to a more progressive and open ethics and value system.

Although old systems and epistemologies inherited from humanist practices are persisting, they are also mutating and changing, and scholars are creating new models of thought and practice. We are faced with a posthuman condition; one that de-centres man as a measure of all things and calls into question the antagonism between the given and the constructed, between nature and culture. The posthuman, theorized as “a crucial aspect of our historicity” (Braidotti), is significantly affecting scholarly practice in the humanities. Recent theories and philosophies locate knowledge within networks of human and non-human actors (Latour) and an alternative metaphysics of New Materialism “traverses and thereby rewrites thinking as a whole” (Dolphijn & van der Tuin), allowing for radical reconsiderations of fundamental conceptions and practices. And within our institutions of knowledge and cultural production, multidisciplinary collaborative cooperation inside and outside academia, is breaking down field-specific boundaries and creating more scope for different and unpredictable ways of looking at our past and present through the lens of the digital.

While acknowledging the crisis, we wish to move away from the discourse of negativity that is currently encompassing the humanities. We will showcase examples of affirmative engagement with its digital unfolding and will entice trans-disciplinary critical and practical engagement with the oft-perceived stability of knowledge, the shelf life of ideas, and the contingency of (textual, material, etc.) meanings.

This event is free, but registration is necessary to gain access to the workshop material provided on our wiki.


Knowledge Machines ~ School of English ~ © University of Kent

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T: +44 (0)1227 764000

Last Updated: 21/08/2014

Photos by Darrel Birkett