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Critical Code Studies

January 19, 2011

As one of the co-hosts of a new HASTAC forum on Critical Code Studies, I would like to invite you to participate. I am pasting below our publicity email to that effect and I hope those of you reading this would be moved to check out that forum and find out what Critical Code Studies mean, if you’ve not heard of it. 🙂

Here’s my blog preview which was up last week. I tweeted about it earlier last weekend.


We’re excited and so proud to announce the latest forum, Critical Code Studies!

Following up on the excitement and interest at MLA 2011, this latest forum invites scholars to participate in the ongoing development of Critical Code Studies, a burgeoning field that applies hermeneutics to the interpretation of the extra-functional significance of computer source code, “extra” not in the sense of “outside of” but “growing from” the functionality.

Mark C. Marino, who positioned the field in 2006, provocatively summarizes the project of Critical Code Studies:

“Code increasingly shapes, transforms, and limits our lives, our relationships, our art, our cultures, and our civic institutions. It is time to take code out from behind quotation marks, to move beyond execution to comment, to document, and to interpret. Let us make the code the text.”

The practice of reading, analyzing, interpreting, and commenting on code enhances one’s understanding of the most fundamental structure that shapes the development and evolution of the digital world, and thus of digital humanities. CCS, together with software and platform studies, offers opportunities to overcome institutional divisions that separate humanities scholarship from sciences in the academy.

The process of bringing these practices into rigorous interrogation, with code the primary subject, helps us rethink the significance and robustness of our critical methodologies when dealing with digital (and non-digital) objects. Code, with its combination of mathematical and linguistic elements, is the epitome of an interdisciplinary subject.

Throughout the course of our discussion, we will explore challenging questions about how we critically read code. We’ll talk about aesthetics, embedded normativity, obfuscated code, environments in which to perform readings, and a host of other pertinent methodological and pedagogical issues. Furthermore, we’ll collaborate on group readings of code snippets in a dedicated critiquing area, where participants can post code for the community to analyze.

The breadth and depth of this forum will make it a landmark event for Critical Code Studies. We invite scholars from all disciplines to join the discussion and start critiquing code. Critical Code Studies is not confined to those who program for a living, and in fact, non-programmers who have acquired an understanding of code have demonstrated a knack for producing insightful readings. However, the development of CCS depends on the continued dialogue between those primarily in the world of Computer Science and those from the so-called Digital Humanities.

There are two forums.
Main forum:
Sub-forum for actual code critiques: 

The forum will feature eminent scholars from the Digital Humanities and Computer Science:

  • Stephanie August (Loyola Marymount University)
  • David M. Berry (Swansea University)
  • Wendy Chun (Brown University)
  • Matthew Kirschenbaum (University of Maryland)
  • Mark C. Marino (University of Southern California)
  • Tara McPherson (University of Southern California)
  • Todd Millstein (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Mark Sample (George Mason University)
  • Jeremy Douglass (UCSD)


• Jean Bauer (University of Virginia)
• Max Feinstein (University of Southern California)
• Clarissa Lee (Duke University)
• Peter Likarish (University of Iowa)
• Richard Mehlinger (University of California, Riverside)
• Jarah Moesch (University of Maryland)
We are incredibly proud and excited to be hosting this important and timely conversation! Please share with your departments and professors. All are welcome to join HASTAC and comment!
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