Critical Code Studies

Critical Code Studies (CCS) is an approach to code studies that applies critical hermeneutics to the interpretation of computer code, program architecture, and documentation within a sociohistorical context. CCS holds that the lines of code of a program are not value-neutral and can be analyzed using the theoretical approaches applied to other semiotic systems, in addition to particular interpretive methods developed specifically for the discussions of programs. Meaning grows out of the functioning of the code but is not limited to the literal processes the code enacts. Through CCS, practitioners may critique the larger human and computer systems, from the level of the computer to the level of the society in which these code objects circulate and exert influence.

Whereas a computer scientist might argue for or against various pragmatic approaches, scholars of CCS will interrogate the contexts and implications of a programmer’s choices. Whereas a computer scientist or programmer will focus primarily on how code functions or how it makes use of limited resources, critical code studies analyzes the extrafunctional significance of the code. Extra here means not outside of or in addition to but instead growing out of. The meaning of code is ambiguous because it is social, even while it is unambiguous because it is technological.

This definition is written by Mark C. Marino and can be found in his book Critical Code Studies: Initial Methods (MIT Press, 2020: 39-40) from where this entry borrows an adapted version.

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