This paper is a case-driven contribution to the discussion on the method-theory relationship in practices within the field of Computational Literary Studies (CLS). Progress in this field dedicated to the computational analysis of literary texts has long revolved around the new, digital tools: tools, as computational devices for analysis, have had here a comparatively strong status as research entities of their own, while their ontological status has remained unclear to the day. As a rule, they have widely been imported from the fields of data science and NLP, while less often being hand-tailored to specific tasks within interdisciplinary settings. Although studies within CLS are evolving to both a higher degree of specialization in method (going beyond the limitations of out-of-the-box tools) and a stronger theoretical modeling, the technological dimension remains a defining factor. An unreflective adoption of technology in the shape of tools can compromise the plausibility and the reproducibility of the results produced using these tools. Our paper presents a multi-faceted intervention to the discussion around tools, methods, and the research questions that are answered with them. It presents research perspectives first conceived at the ADHO SIG-DLS workshop Anatomy of tools: A closer look at textual DH methodologies that took place in Utrecht in July 2019. At that event, the authors discussed selected case studies to address tool criticism from several angles. Our goal was to leverage a tool-critical perspective, in order to “take stock, reflect upon and critically comment upon our own practices” within CLS. We identified Textométrie, Stylometry, and Semantic Text Mining as three central types of hands-on CLS. For each of these sub-fields, we asked: What are our tools and methods-in-use? What are the implications of using a tool-oriented perspective as opposed to a methodology-oriented one? How do either relate to research questions and theory? These questions were explored by case-studies on an exemplary basis. The unifying perspective of this paper is an applied tool criticism – a critical inquiry leveraged towards crucial dimensions of CLS practices. Here we re-compose the original oral papers and add entirely new sections to it, to create a useful overview of the issue through a combination of perspectives. While we elaborated the thematic connections between the individual case studies, we hope the interactive spirit of an exemplary exchange remains palpable: individual research perspectives shape the case studies reported for Textométrie, Stylometry and Semantic Text Mining, are complemented by further studies showcasing CLS-specific perspectives on replicability and domain-specific research, and a short section discussing a tool inventory as a practical, community-based incarnation of tool criticism. The article reflects thus a rich array of perspectives on tool criticism, including the complementary perspective of tool defense – arguing that we need tools and methods as a basic common ground on how to carry out fundamental operations of analysis and interpretation within a community.
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