Introducing the Critical Code Studies Working Group

We are so pleased to bring you the following announcement from our Critical Code Studies Working Group colleagues, which contains general information about Critical Code Studies and about the currently ongoing Working Group series online here.


Follow and join the conversation on HASTAC via our Critical Code Studies group!

– The HASTAC Team

This year, we’re inviting HASTAC to join in the Critical Code Studies Working Group both in the forum and on Twitter. Here’s a brief primer on CCS.


What is Critical Code Studies?

(see this article)
Critical Code Studies is the application of methodologies from the humanities to the interpretation of the extra-functional significance of computer source code. Extra-functional means not “outside of” but “growing out of” its function. In other words, once we know what the code does, we can then say what it means, or what code does (assuming it does anything) is only part of its meaning. “Critical” emphasizes the use of philosophical lenses, known in the humanities as “critical theory.” In particular, Critical Code Studies draws lessons from the models of Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Studies. CCS uses code as an excavation site for explorations of culture.


What is the Working Group?

A biennial gathering of scholars of all levels interested in exploring culture through code. This is our fifth biennial working group, marking our 10 year anniversary. The first of these was published in electronic book review. The goal of the working group is to spend concentrated energy for a fixed period time developing new methods, theories, and readings, while discussing key issues in programming culture.


How does it work?

The working group has hosted weekly plenary discussions accompanied by individual code critique threads where participants offer code for discussion. Featured presenters lead the discussion.


How participants and non-participants can engage?

Participants are encouraged to join the weekly discussions and start and comment on code critique threads.
Non-registered participants are encouraged to react and discuss online as we make our conversations public for the first time. We’ve taken down the garden wall. There will be a Twitter Chat run by HASTAC Scholars that will accompany each week of the working group and everyone, registered and not, are invited to participate.

You can continue your work after the Working Group by applying to be an affiliate of the Humanities and Critical Code Studies (HaCCs) Lab.


Critical Code Studies (brief reading list)

The original essay of course might help.

State of the Field (2014) (includes a lit. review)

Why We Must Read the Code: The Science Wars, Episode IV

The first CCSWG can be found in electronic book review


How does CCS relate to Software Studies, Algorithmic Studies, Platform, Black Code Studies, Media Archeology?

Critical Code Studies takes as its chief object computer source code. Code is often software and runs on hardware, so the study is deeply tied to those fields (Software and Platform Studies), and of course, it benefits from the approaches of media archeology. Since algorithms are implemented in code, there’s much overlap between CCS and the recently named algorithm studies, but CCS has an added focus of examining the specific code used to instantiate the algorithm. 
While Critical Code Studies shares and extends the work of these interrelated fields, CCS works to develop methods for specifically addressing elements of computer source code, since such methods are not required for analyses in these other disciplines. CCS also stresses the centrality of hermeneutics, known also as critical theory, to the interpretation of source code. 

Black Code Studies is a recent field launched in a special issue of The Black Scholar edited by Jessica M. Johnson and Mark A. Neal. While BCS takes the term “code” more broadly, this year we are exploring code through a BCS lens, learning what that approach can bring to CCS practices. In similar ways, we have worked with FemTechNet and feminist approaches and post-colonial approaches in our working groups. These few examples have demonstrated how each new set of lenses offers further opportunity for critical inquiry. 

The field is still quite young, so we look toward new developments and discoveries as scholars continue to explore the meaning of code.

Photo by Kevin on Unsplash