This session proposal overlaps with Patrick’s idea for a humanities coding session, but it’s different enough that I thought it might warrant its own session. Whereas Patrick would like to draw together people who write or hack code in a digital humanities context, I’d like to bring together people who are interested in the critical reading of code as a media object.
Critical code studies is an emerging field related to software studies and platform studies, but it’s more closely attuned to the code itself of a program rather than the program’s interface and usability (as in software studies) or its underlying hardware (as in platform studies). (NOTE: I’ve ridiculously mischaracterized software studies and platform studies here. In fact, according to Nick Montfort’s original formulation of platform studies, code is an integral component of the overall platform, meaning critical code studies is actually a subset of platform studies.)
Critical code studies might look at the algorithms of a program, the programmer’s inline comments to the code, or the way code is hacked and transmitted. It borrows many of the tools of literary and historical scholarship, but infuses them with what Katherine Hayles describes as “media-specific analysis.” Mark Marino has a good introduction to critical code studies, and I’d humbly recommend my own look at the code of SimCity as another example of critical code studies.
My interest in code studies is pedagogical as much as it is methodological. Code is not just for coders. I believe that as digital humanists, we need to teach everyday people, and in particular, nonprogramming undergraduate students, what Michael Mateas calls procedural literacy. This session, then, would serve as an introduction to critical code studies, and I’d stress that no programming experience is necessary. If you know how to read, you can begin reading code. And if you know how to read critically, you can begin reading code critically.