Critical Code Studies in ebr

[updated 1/02/07] This post follows up on two previous posts on WRT ( 1, 2 ) and a follow-up. Link directly to Critical Code Studies in the ebr.

Critical Code Studies first began as an inspiration here on WRT. This December marks the formal launch with the publication of “Critical Code Studies” in the electronic book review and with Rita Raley’s “Reading Code” panel at MLA 2006 in Philadelphia. [10:15–11:30 a.m., December 28, room 306, Philadelphia Marriott]

What is Critical Code Studies?

Critical Code Studies is the application of critical theory to the explication of computer code, akin to literary analysis and cultural studies. It is not any one particular interpretive approach, but a disposition toward the code, a general assumption that the code contains meaning and value beyond its functionality.

CCS in ebr

Later this month, ebr weaves CCS into a discussion thread that includes Rita Raley and John Cayley, in which Cayley points out that source code is not the text elit critics explore when they claim to be studying code in codeworks. This post hit the net some years ago, and thanks to its interventions, there are a few examples of these kinds of readings Critical Code Studies was an idea born on WRT more than a year ago. Now after a few iterations on WRT, it is coming on its own.

In the article, I work to distinguish CCS from:

  • Interpreting only codeworks, though these prove instuctional
  • Interpreting only literate code, though this kind of code may prove to be easier to access
  • A pragmatic means of developing a rhetoric for programming, though the rhetorics of coding will fuel interpretation.

While CCS may help with any of these projects, it is not circumscribed by them. It looks to apply the techniques of critical theory to the analysis of source code and its functioning in societies. What happens when critics interpret code that was not written to be a literary object. Certainly print-critics have already wrestled with such scenarios.

This article presents the intellectual lineage of CCS, while making the case for its development and practice within a humanies context. I trace out various critics who have already been engaging in CCS, though without naming the practice. I suggest a few future objects of study.


At MLA, CCS will be a response to the papers given by Cayley, Florian Cramer, and David A. Golumbia, moderated by Raley. Since it is a response, I cannot completely characterize the talk prior to the presentations, but it will certainly propose the practice in the context of those critics. WRT will continue to be the developing grounds for many CCS projects, especially since Jeremy’s work already serves as examples. We look forward to the critics who will experiment with such interpretations.

Future plans for CCS

  • code related to conversational agents and terrorist networks.
  • a collection of CCS essays. (Jeremy is onboard for this.)
  • CCS conference

6 Responses to “Critical Code Studies in ebr”

  1. 1 Julian

    Okay, I have always loathed electronic book review, for its mind-bogglingly user-unfriendly interface, but this actually sounds interesting enough to forgive them for their erroneous ways. But … where is it? You can’t search for it (unless you feel like trawling through 400+ search results, it’s not on the start page, and the article above does not provide any pointers either. Help!

  2. 2 Noah

    Yes, I suspect that this post may have gone live on WRT before all the info got filled in. There’s not yet the ebr link or the name of the final MLA panelist… In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing the essay when it appears!

  3. 3 Mark Marino

    Noah and Julian,

    I had to post a bit before the actual publication of the article.

    ebr is timing the publication to coincide with the MLA talk. I have the link but did not want to preempt their publication schedule. Once they have published the essay, I will update the post with a direct link, though you should have no trouble finding it through the ebr portal at that time.

    If you have any trouble at that point, please let me know.

  4. 4 Mark Marino

    The essay is now online in ebr. See the link from the post above.

  1. 1 Grand Text Auto » Philadelphia Survives Modern Language Association Again
  2. 2 Beyond English Elit: International Electronic Literature at WRT: Writer Response Theory

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