Unfortunately, I’m really slammed for time right now, and can’t write a long reply. But it is, in my opinion, incorrect to say that software studies is the study of software. Rather, software studies encompasses the work of scholars who are using examination of the specifics of software to understand any aspect of culture or society. Obviously, using the specifics of software is a great way to look at things that are software — like games, versioning systems, uncompiled code, etc. But it’s also a powerful way at looking at the many activities that have been transformed by software. Not just the often-collaborative work of software authoring, but also the work of architecture or DJing, many forms of entertainment, etc.]]>
Can you add your definitions of software and code?
Also, can you mention an example of a reading of “codework” that does not address uncompiled code?
Also, Jeremy mentions “Critical Code Studies” but you write about “Code Studies.” Are you referring to something else?
[I’ve added some further notes over at Critical Code Studies, but I did want to raise some over here as well]
When you say the object of study is culture and the means to that study are “aspects of software.” This is the most remarkable definition yet in its affinities with CCS.
I’d like to follow up on Noah’s postulation about critiques that discuss “codework” but do not address uncompiled source code.
I certainly see critiques of code that don’t employ critical theory (which does not seem to be critical code studies).
I also see critiques of software that do not discuss source code (again, these do not seem to be critical code studies) — but are in fact the very call for CCS.
Critical Code Studies, as I see it, shares interests with those projects but brings in specific critical lenses from outside. One might see a similar, though not entirely analogous, division between Sociology and Cultural Studies or perhaps more accurately between literary studies and critical theory.
If there is a distinction to be drawn perhaps it is in the focus.
Software Studies, as I see it, is a broad category covering a set of objects and their cultural contexts, akin to literary studies. This seems commensurate with Noah’s definition. And similar to literary studies, the field does not have to spend much time convincing anyone (whom I read) that software is meaningful to culture. It can focus on various ways in which software makes meaning.
Currently, Critical Code Studies, however, is still an argument, a hypothesis, and a movement that is trying to consider the meaning that can be found in/made out of code in relationship to culture. There is still quite a bit of doubt about whether or not it is possible and relatively few examples of elaborated readings of specific lines of code.
In some ways, I think Jeremy’s suspicion may be correct, that this is too early to be setting boundaries.
Nonetheless, without being too reductive: Emphasis is important. In the world of limited time, critics must choose what they will emphasize in any given article. Do they make a choice between emphasizing the computation or emphasizing the code? Probably. Do they make a choice between reading the code and not reading the code? Certainly. This is the work that remains for CCS regardless of where it fits on a Venn diagram.]]>
Søren, great to hear from you. Yes, not only are we aware of these things, but Lev Manovich (who you mention as a theorist, and who is a contributor to Fuller’s book) is the director of UCSD’s Software Studies initiative.
I can’t write more at the moment, but I’m looking forward to further discussion.]]>
Sounds really interesting! Just wanted to point to some partly European initiatives (with lots of collaborations from the US and elsewhere - I’m not trying to claim a eurocentric perspective…), that have gone on for a while and are related to both software studies and critical code studies. One is the Read_me conferences and festivals (Moskva, Helsinki, Aarhus, Dortmund) around Software Art and the Runme.org software art repository. On these festivals things like live-coding has taken place together with other software and code-oriented performances and pieces. Artistically people like Alexei Shulgin, Olga Goriunova, Amy Alexander, Adrian Ward, and Alex McLean, theoretically people like Matthew Fuller, Lev Manovich, Geoff Cox, Florian Cramer just to mention a few. Matthew Fuller organised for example a workshop on software studies that will result in a Software Studies Lexicon on MIT next year. In Aarhus, we’ve worked with the cultural and aesthetic interface as our research frame since 2004 (http://www.interfacekultur.au.dk), not everything is available in English, but we’re working at it…
To my view, the code view is interesting, as long as it does not claim to be - or function like - the hidden or ‘deep’ truth, obscuring other perspectives related to power-relations, representation, sound and images, use, etc. Code runs the risk of being the new latin or sacred depth, or perhaps just a jargon alienating other humanistic researchers and ordinary people, even though I know that a lot of the proponents of code studies try to fight this tendency! Programming, writing, coding is important, but it is not the whole story. Software and interface studies complement this.]]>
Jeremy, I have the sense that you’re saying that code studies considers human behaviors that aren’t precisely the writing or reading of uncompiled source code — but that are strongly influenced by our cultural contact with programming language code (pseudocode, codework poetry) and new kinds of communication enabled by software (LOLcode). In other words, some of code studies is studying aspects of digital culture through the lens of, or as informed by, a perspective on uncompiled source code.
Which is to say, there are ways of looking at LOLcode or codework poetry that are code studies, and other ways that aren’t, right? Looking at codework without any perspective informed by thinking about uncompiled source code has certainly been done, and I assume none of us think that’s code studies. Similarly, I’d say the ways of looking at it that are informed by thinking about uncompiled source code are also software studies. Personally, my rough working definition of software studies includes any examination of culture that is informed by close examination of aspects of software, including uncompiled source code. Obviously, that creates lots of grey area. But it also puts the small number of people who are making the specifics of software central to their cultural work — like people doing code studies — at the center of software studies, rather than in the grey area.]]>