Paper Digital Humanities Australasia 2018

Peering Outside of the Pink Tent: Mapping Postcolonial Digital Humanities along the Queer Rim of the Indian Ocean (24)

Rahul K Gairola 1
  1. Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia

In her much-cited blog post of 26 July, 2011, Melissa Terras writes, “In many regards, “Big Tent Digital Humanities” is a nice concept. It is true that the DH community is considerably more open, approachable, welcoming, and willing to embrace new approaches than many traditional areas of humanities academia. Big Tent DH, then, is an ecumenical approach, whilst giving the freedom for individual scholars to explore their own interests, wherever in the research and teaching spectrum they lie” (Terras 2011). However, writes Terras, “despite all this, there will be a lot of folk left peering into the Big Tent, without ever gaining full access of any paid employment in DH. Institutional support means access to computational infrastructure, journals, money for equipment, conference travel, paid sabbaticals to write up research, payment which enables you to subscribe to journals and scholarly societies, etc.” (Terras 2011).

I open with Terras’ problematisation of the “big tent” metaphor because it is at once an inclusive and carnivalesque trope but one that nonetheless one whose jouissance for technology too often blurs the very human conditions which shape it. That is, the very fabric of the tent is comprised of a certain material, colour, consistency, and shape. Perhaps most importantly, the inclusive space inside of the tent is always already marked by an outside -- an outside that has overwhelmingly so been conceived as Western territory. In this formulation, DH practitioners often unwittingly institutionalise western spaces as those in which DH discourse takes root. It is moreover underpinned by heteronormative algorithms of gender and sexuality. For this reason, my contribution reconfigures the original title of Terras’ landmark blog publication: 1) I speak about peering “outside” rather than “inside” to emphasize that which is excluded and left out, namely the nations of the Global South, in Big Tent Digital Humanities; and 2) I view this tent as “pink” to also identify the queer discourses in digital humanities that are visibly marginalized in the field.

Refusing to view these two points as mutually exclusive, I instead view them as intersectional and necessary in formulating a less Anglocentric and Eurocentric model of DH, one which instead promises a more democratic model of global digital humanities. This essay surveys how digital culture and praxis is apart from yet connected throughout three postcolonial cities that were once jewels in the British Empire’s crown: Durban in South Africa, Chennai in southern India, and Perth in western Australia. I track the Zulu, Tamil, Hindi, and English circuits of queer communities networked across the Indian Ocean rim. I show how the digital milieu in this sector of the Global South (itself a problematic term) is shaped by its displacement from the male/ female binary, and instead enables a flexibility that reflects the acceptance of the third gender. These three loci, I will show, enable counter-practices in the digital Global South for queer subjects who are neither at home in English or at home online.