The following article was recently published by Digital Humanities Quarterly.
Rhiannon Stephanie Bettivia
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
University of Leeds
Digital Humanities Quarterly
Volume 11, Number 3 (2017)
Digital technologies offer opportunities for engagement with cultural heritage resources through the development of online platforms and databases. However, questions have been raised about whether this type of engagement is structurally open or bounded by pre-existing institutional frameworks. Michel Foucault’s later work on “governmentality” speaks to this concern and identifies in modes of government the mutually reinforcing relation of all and each, “to develop those elements constitutive of individuals’ lives in such a way that their development also fosters that of the strength of the state” [Foucault  2000a].
This article takes Foucault’s insight as a point of departure for thinking about how digital technologies are mediating and structuring the relationships between individuals and organizations, using the European Commission-funded Europeana project as a case study.
Europeana is the embodiment of all and each as a technique of government: it functions by fostering the contributions of individuals and national audiences in a way that celebrates their diversity, while also engaging in a project to systematically standardize and unify. Examination of the technical elements of Europeana reveals the political imperatives implicit in its technical operations, and how the parameters for audience participation are subsequently defined.
In this article, we examine the audiences explicitly and implicitly delimited by Europeana, and then analyze them in relation to the project’s development of the European Data Model (EDM) for the interchange of metadata about cultural heritage objects. The article concludes that a lack of explicit definitions about audiences, what Europeana is, and how its various parts work in concert constitute a definitional void. This void is a technique of government in that it absorbs difference and is deliberately vague. It involves power relations that are hard to center and render visible, and it is thus difficult to detect which actors are occupying a space of privilege. We suggest some tentative strategies for addressing this problem by attending to the sites of awkward engagement and difference that are currently masked in the technical framing of Europeana.
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