What is Software Studies?

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Software Studies takes multiple approaches in understanding and enacting the notion that knowledge is currently being rewritten, from prose to software. The idea that knowledge is being rewritten, is simultaneously fairly obvious (considering how we’re reading this right now), and yet very contentious in its implications. Crowning such contention is the term “digital ideology”, a short hand for saying, computers are effecting the way we think, our unspoken assumptions, our beliefs, the very edge of conceptual possibility. (Google isn’t a company, it’s the air we breath!) While “digital ideology” seems to hint at something radically profound, it runs the risk of either being tautology, or worse yet an esoteric claim on reality, but hell, you have to start somewhere… and it seems Software Studies is off to a decent start.  (watch the videos from the software studies conference) So what does Software Studies actually look like? Well, it seems on one hand to be about humanizing software, both in its perception/reception and literacy, and in the knowledge it embodies. To the latter point, it seems Software studies is invested in the belief that disciplines that previously did not explicitly use software, start to. An example of this might be Lev Manovich’s “cultural analytics”. Imagine the operation room for NASA, or some military venture, but instead of monitoring a trip to the moon, or impending doom, you’re examining the evolving color palette of fashion magazines, or the rhetoric of late night talk shows. Anything that doesn’t have a digital trail, needs to start producing one. It evokes what Kevin Kelly calls the “network of things”, that makes up the urban space as it becomes increasingly saturated with more and more computation. It’s a bit of a leap, but I see a parallel between this vision of the “network of things” and the cultural analytics that follow, and Clay Shirky’s description of media, as having shifted from a source of information to a site of action. Media becomes the folding and organizing of place. This leads me to my final point, I think for the digital ideology of software studies to ground itself, it needs to look outside the explicit domain of software to find its effects. How do seemly disparate cultural forces produce a constellation of thought that orients us today?


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