I’d like to expand on and develop an early post suggesting Critical Code Studies with a preliminary definition and some thoughts.
Critical Code Studies: An approach to Code Studies, which applies critical heuristics to the interpretation to computer code, program architecture, and documentation.
CCS holds that the textons (the lines of code) of a program are not value neutral and can be analyzed using the theoretical approaches applied to other semiotic systems in addition to particular interpretive methods developed particularly for the discussions of programs.
Rather than creating a language separate from the work of programmers, Code Studies will build on pre-existing terminology and analysis used within the programming community. Much of the current examination of code seems to revolve around efficiency of code, reusability, and modularity. This critical approach will stress meaning and implication.
Though some in the area of CCS may have an in depth knowledge of programming, many analyses will involve the collaboration of theorists and programmers. This approach will require programmers to help open up the contents of programs with the theorists and as theorists as they work to reflect on the relationships between code, coding architecture, and other programming choices, or expressions, to the content of the work.
Like literary analysis, CCS would be an interpretive process rather than a proscriptive or descriptive process. Other branches (lines of flight) of Code Studies may be concerned with pragmatics, CCS focuses on meaning, read out of the often collaborative and certainly iterative performance that is coding.
Coding ideologies, such as Open Source programming, will also be important, although CCS will analyze more than Open Source programs, though access may be more limited.
I do not want to confuse Code Studies with the study of Code used as literature (as in Perl Poetry), although this is certainly related. The focus in not on making code that has aesthetic value and additional meaning but a view of code as already having meaning beyond its functionality since it is already a form of symbolic expression and interaction.
No doubt, there have already been examples of Critical Code Studies. Let us compile a list and explore how this area of research might develop. (I’m also interested in ties to theorists who may have already articulated similar approaches.)