Sunday, March 27, 2022

Decentering Asian Canadian Studies in the Global Diaspora


At an event that promoted intercultural dialogue and celebrated fusion culture, I remember one out-of-town visitor asked what is the point of celebrating “Asian Canadian.” I was taken aback by the question, but upon years of reflection, perhaps the question is worthwhile to ponder. It’s unique to me as someone who’s familiar and identifies with “Asian Canadian,” but to another individual from a different part of the world, it might evoke different emotions. It took a number of years for us to figure this out, but the LiterASIAN Festival, a literary festival that celebrates and highlights Asian Canadian writers, decided for the first time to shine the spotlight outside of Canada on writers of Asian heritage from across the world.

As festival director, I explored this idea of “GlobalAsian: from Grassroots to Globalization” and thanks to a virtual setup, was able to feature authors and cultural activists. It leads to my reading of Chris Lee and Christine Kim’s ​​Inter-referencing Asian Canadian Studies: imagining diasporic possibility outside the (Canadian) nation as they ask critically, what would it mean if Asian Canadian Studies repositions itself towards Asia while decentring the West?
By shifting the poles of discussion from the overly abstract distinction between Asia and the West to linked spaces and societies such as Seoul and Singapore or Delhi and Bangkok, new forms of knowledge are generated as we investigate local problems and draw comparisons among them” (Lee & Kim, 305)
Asian Canadian Studies has always been a comparative project that looks “outwards and engages with other diasporas within and beyond the nation-state,” and I’m heartened that LiterASIAN has matured and evolved to explore the literary traditions of “Asian Canadian” writing to the shared experiences around the world. The anti-Asian racism and sentiments around the world these past three years is yet again a central theme of this year’s LiterASIAN festival and another stark reminder that racism, just like a global pandemic, is a global phenomenon not siloed and contained within the borders of any nation-state.   I hope to see you at the festival, where we will be finding our voices, telling our stories.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Open Scholarship and the Digital Humanities

I’ve been taking the Program for Open Scholarship and Education (POSE) , a flexible and blended MOOC created at UBC. One of the modules cover a key area of interest I have in open scholarship in the humanities, with the question of whether open scholarship methods were possible in the humanities. One of the readings, Rik Peels’ “Replicability and replication in the humanities'” argues why such replication in the humanities is not only possible but also desirable. I want to use the field of digital humanities to answer the question whether we should also pursue replication in the humanities and its positive impacts on open scholarship and research.

While there has been much debate about whether the humanities add value to scholarship and support preparation for students in their lifelong pursuits, it’s often been subjective, if not polemic, arguments are not necessarily supported by tangible or empirical evidence. I see the digital humanities (DH) as a field that is not only feasible for open research but provides new discoveries and interdisciplinary scholarship that benefits more than just intellectual outputs but also those students who study them.

Skeptics point to whether it is at all possible for “empirical studies in the humanities are often such that an independent repetition of it, using similar or different methods and conducted under similar circumstances, can be carried out” at all (Peels, 2019). Digital technologies have enabled researchers to use techniques that can help reproduce and replicate research findings, and that is a powerful approach to positioning the humanities to the scholarship that has been employed in the sciences.

Ted Underwood is a literary and digital humanities scholar that I follow and offers an insightful case of his impact on the humanities. Underwood often shares his research findings and links from his articles and books to his blog which shares links to data and code that support certain blog posts under a category of open data. For instance, Underwood and Jordan Sellers’ “The Emergence of Literary Diction” is an excellent example how the humanities can prioritize computational reproducibility, and practitioners can pass off all of the inputs (data, scripts, etc) of a project to empower other researchers to reproduce the findings for not only peer review but also enrich the research with additional new findings.

In their research, Underwood and Sellers ask the question of when did literary diction differentiate itself from nonfiction prose? He looks back to literature in the 18th and 19th centuries and through the use of textual analysis comes to the conclusion that literary fiction writers relied much more heavily on the older part of the lexicon. He does this by “counting” the number of words (the most common ten thousand) that entered English before 1150 and dividing it by the number of words that entered the language between 1150 and 1699.

What he finds is fascinating: by the end of the 19th century, a “new, sharply marked distinction between literary and nonliterary diction” in that novels used the older part of the lexicon at a rate almost double that of nonfiction prose. Prior to 1600, there was little distinction between poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. Underwood uses the programming language R and shares the scripts on GitHub.

What DH projects such as these is the possibility of computational replicability using the same workflow to be used by other researchers. One can conceivably use a different dataset of English texts (perhaps Project Gutenberg, just as an example) that could yield different but expected results using the same R scripts that Underwood provides. Most of the visualizations presented in the article are derived from a collection of 4,275 documents from the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) which is open data.

However, while Peel’s argument that carrying out replication studies in the humanities is not only desirable, we “should actually frequently carry out such independent repetitions of published studies,” we also need to consider the advantages of the resources of the Global North. The rise of digital humanities certainly looks very different from the “traditional” analogue techniques of earlier times, when a close reading of texts relies on hermeneutical methods, based on subjective qualitative interpretations. Researchers don’t need to rely on just the expertise of the written word, they can reproduce the same findings themselves. It also impels students to utilize those skills and tools used more commonly in literate programming (using R, Python, just to name a few) that can be both useful to research, but also knowledge used in life beyond academia.

Friday, March 18, 2022

"Out of the Office," But Entirely Engaged the Rest of the Time

I recall that during my early days I couldn’t make it to a Christmas social event at a senior manager’s invitation. Later it was circulated back to me that my managers felt that I didn’t show up to these events and they didn’t know me. As a new hire, I was completely perplexed and frightened. Would I be penalized for not being a team player? I was not tenured yet and thought that this was part of the performance evaluation and would be penalized.   Of course, in hindsight, it didn’t really make an iota of difference.

In some ways, the professional librarian work that I’ve performed as a librarian can be said to be performative.  It's a profession that is highly social, and with it comes the unwritten rules of the office place.  Charlie Wazel and Anne Helen Petersen’s Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home offers an insightful framework into the transition of working from home, particularly during the past two years of the pandemic.

Socializing outside of work as an expectation of our work is really problematic. In many ways, the pandemic has put a hold on this, and it might be an opportunity to disrupt the romantic notion that team building outside of the workplace can actually be forced rather than organically happen.

Some workplaces also go as far as calling themselves a “family,” which the authors assert is deeply misleading and even manipulative so as to skirt potential issues of behaviour that may be more acceptable in real families.  Then there is the notion of the “organization man” is a product of the post-war period when individuals (usually men) were loyal to the same company from the beginning to the end of their careers. This type of corporatism “live action role playing” (LARP) has led to burnout that centred on showing up as early and leaving as late as possible at the office as a torturous type of show performance “to be seen” even when there's no work to be done.

The authors believe the pandemic has helped reset and “level the office playing field” with remote work. Prior to the pandemic, it was said that it couldn’t be done. But my work has been as productive as before the pandemic. And I’m sure many others have appreciated the time saved not only from drivelous travel times stuck in traffic but also the work-life balance.   But I also return to the problem of FOMO - which can be detrimental in hybrid and remote work as well.   Just as the office was designed to benefit those who had little or no responsibilities, we must take care so that hybrid work doesn't actually deepen this divide in which:
Single parents, workers with elder family members, disabled employees, and those who simply don't want to live in proximity to the office risk being overshadowed by those who come in every day. . . proximity bias might emerge.  Ambitious, competive employees will sacrifice remote flexibility and work relentlessly in person, while remote employees, motivated by the anxiety of not seeming productive, will live in fear of managers and overcompensate with overwork.  Both sides end up driving the other to misery.

Just as hybrid work evolves and continues to shape the contours of work spaces, we need to take extra care in ensuring equity and inclusion remain pillars.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

The Power of Identity Capitalism

I remember many years ago a candidate was giving a presentation as part of his interview for a senior leadership position. This candidate recounted a marvelous track record, and name-dropped some important EDI initiatives, along with some notable individuals. Of course, this was all performative as he clearly did none of what he had listed off, and in fact, had cared little about it during his tenure. It was a successful interview and he got the job. It was the first time I had encountered the positive publicity that EDI can bring to an organization, and it doesn’t even matter if you don’t support it as long as you talk about it glowingly.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was a form of identity capitalism.

Nancy Leong’s Identity Capitalists: The Powerful Insiders Who Exploit Diversity to Maintain Inequality is a powerful book that argues through a number of case studies that identity capitalism is a process in which an ingroup benefits from outgroup identity. In North America, as are well aware, the main ingroup is usually white, male, heterosexual, and wealthy.  Identity capitalism is also a business strategy. Just professing the value of diversity helps to exonerate a company’s image at a time of negative publicity.

A lot of institutions dishonestly use racial photoshopping to inflate diversity. Have you ever noticed the meticulousness of diversity when in reality the staff is completely homogenous? Leong reveals that campuses often photoshop Black students into group photos. Identity capitalism implies that social problems are easy to solve or have been solved already, yet in reality are only a superficial and performative gesture toward a solution.  The better diversity statement is an honest one: touting the company’s accomplishments but explaining there is more work to do within and beyond the company itself.  There is always a wonderful opportunity to be humble and grow.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Leadership Journey With Dr. Anthony Chow of the San Jose University iSchool

This is an inspiring video that I wanted to share after watching it.  Dr. Anthony Chow is the Director of  San Jose State University’s School of Information, appointed July 2021. Before his appointment at the iSchool, Anthony was an associate professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.   His research focuses on systems thinking, technology integration, organizational management, and also information-seeking behaviour and usability in digital environments.

With an academic career that spans 21 years, he offered some really insightful experiences as a person of colour who has held leadership positions.   Anthony is an inspirational story, in a profession that is predominantly racially homogenous, and seeing how he has navigated the terrains of academia, which can be competitive and cutthroat, successfully is really a great story.    Here's some highlights that he shares with us that helped him throughout the years:  

Experience -- Age and experience helps.   After a while, Chow found that he was more comfortable as he spoke to peers on a personal level, he was around the same age and had earned his stripes.   I've found this insight to be really relatable in my own life.  If you hang in there, over time, your experience builds on itself and compounds exponentially over time.  Eventually, you will feel comfortable in your own skin, which goes a long way to how it builds confidence.  Patience is key and paying your dues.  

Get Involved -- Getting involved, whether it's emailing and making those phone calls to worthy causes.  "Prove it" to others that you care.   Eventually, they will find you and seek your leadership.

Be Kind -- Ultimately, being kind is so important.   Leadership means leading with a good heart.  Leading by an organizational chart hierarchy is called managerialism.   Leadership is something entirely different.