Despite the importance of policy and infrastructure, in “Beyond Humanities qua Digital: Spatial and Material Development for Digital Research Infrastructures in HumlabX,” Foka et al. remark that, in 2018, “Despite the growing number of research laboratories, the actual processes whereby digital technology is appropriated for use in the arts and humanities remain poorly understood.”79 They present a case study of HumlabX, the humanities laboratory at the Arts Campus of Umeå University as a cautionary tale about the dangers of “organizational vulnerability”—a kind of institutional rigidity that makes it difficult to adapt to changes in funding structures, research support programs, and other infrastructural issues. Cultural policy in the form of granting programs and other government initiatives brings into being the possibility of funding for new kinds of research spaces, but, for better and worse, it also holds scholars accountable to new assessment criteria. Foka et al.’s ultimate argument is that scholars working with digital media need to move beyond the partisan debates that characterize any new field and “engage in the development of digital research infrastructure policies” because it’s the only way to ensure that labs will be sustainable and capable of further development.80 The high overhead cost of running many types of hybrid labs means that scholars ignore infrastructural and policy issues at their peril.
Lab discourse might sometimes sound like it’s issuing from rugged individuals on the vanguard of cultural production, but it always requires support from institutional policy decisions. Such decisions are based on what is occurring elsewhere in culture, as new practices, courses, and funding patterns and so on begin to appear. Labs emerge out of a set of overlapping and sometimes competing and contradictory systems of production, circulation and consumption, each of which will have some degree of a regulatory system, and those systems will succeed or fail to varying degrees. Considering a range of hybrid lab types in terms of longer cycles is helpful because it allows us to see both the historic development of their form and several versions what might happen after the current moment.