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Tuesday, October 8 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
Unruly Bodies of Code in Time

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While many scholars of media and information systems argue for a materialist approach to the study of software, the temporal dimension of this materiality – how software ages, decays, obsolesces – is often left unconsidered as something that impacts practices of software work. Many have turned to historical software objects and have developed methods to read forensically, archaeologically, or genealogically such ephemeral forms of media. But little consideration for how coders and software developers deal with and read code as a historical object. In arguing for a materialist approach to software, there is a tendency to take for granted that the engineer or software developer working with code as a medium, has an inherent appreciation for the material specificities of code, its malleability as well as its obduracy. Yet in my ethnographic work with engineers and software professionals I see how moves to materialize or dematerialize software play a role in power relations, legitimizing or valuing certain kinds of software work over others, or even pathologizing particular attachments to code. As a formal construct, software is treated as immaterial and therefore impervious to decay, sometimes even imagined to be able to forever extend the life of hardware as it obsolesces. But in other, almost ritualized, moments, its materiality is called out.  Media scholars often turn to an archaeological or genealogical method to draw out the material specificity of software objects – this is in part because historical contingencies reveal the material nature of the digital in ways that newer systems do not. This appears to be true among software practitioners as well: as software ages, its materiality becomes more visible and felt within the organization. The more “historical” code is, the more it shifts from being “lines of code” to a “body of code” that has been traversed by many coders, touched by many hands, and becomes both feminized and pathologized for its unruliness. This paper discusses how software as an aged body of code is talked about by practioners working with code. What affective attachments are formed to code, how is old code valued or devalued? And what does this tell us about the broader disciplinary regime in which code as well as coding subject(ivities) are made?

Tuesday October 8, 2019 3:30pm - 4:00pm EDT
5AB (2nd Floor)