CCS at SLSA 2016

Several HaCCS Lab affiliates will be presenting new research in Critical Code Studies at the 2016 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) conference in Atlanta (November 3-6, 2016). Below are the panel abstracts of these papers that extend the work of CCS in innovative ways.

Panel 10F: Saturday, November 5, 1:30 PM-3:30 PM Ansley 6 (projector, screen, and speakers)
Critical Code Studies and Creativity
Without questions, computer source code has been an explosive tool of creativity for over fifty years. However, in the realm of code, meaning is created in ways distinct from and yet complementary to other symbolic systems. Using the methods of Critical Code Studies, this panel will explore the meaning created through approaches to code. To begin, we will examine the ways code through its own rhetorical structures enables argumentation in critical and creative inquiry. As a means of rhetorical expression, we will then consider code as a means of social engagement. Since expression in code is constrained by programming languages, we will also examine the ways in which languages themselves facilitate or inhibit that expression. Finally, we will consider the way rule-based play in Live Action Role Play (larp) can be understood when situated as encoded play and read through the tools of CCS. These four presentations will give way to a discussion with the audience of the implications of regarding code as a means of communication.  Chair: Mark Marino

The Creative Potential of Composing in Code Kevin Brock (University of South Carolina; kevin at brockoleur.com)
Since Marino’s (2006) initial publication calling for a critical code studies (CCS), one of the emerging field’s principal questions has been: “What would happen if we began to interpret the meaning of the code?” This is a valuable question that facilitates critical and analytical inquiry into the arguments made within the code of existing software programs. However, for disciplines interested in employing or invoking CCS’ theoretical lenses for facilitating various forms of communication, this question can be extended beyond the scope of interpretation to include also creation or meaning-making. Put another way, the question can be asked as: “What would happen if we began consciously to construct meaningful arguments in code?” CCS offers an especially valuable framework through which to explore the potential of inventio for the development of code specifically and procedure more broadly. That is, the critical study of code and its production–whether in professional or amateur contexts–can illuminate for us how code texts might be developed differently and more kairotically when, following Knuth (1992) and others since, explicit attention is paid to the articulation of human-comprehensible, persuasive argument through procedural logic. Through the examination of several brief case studies where arguments in code (as distinct from and in addition to discursive arguments surrounding said code) had significant impact on their development, application, and subsequent uptake, Brock will attend to the potential for a broader and more nuanced approach to rhetorical invention in, and geared toward, code as distinct from invention in other modes of communication.

Dynamic Conversations in the Humanities
Michael Russo (Rutgers University at Camden; russo.ink at rutgers.edu)
Russo discusses the advantages – and disadvantages – of teaching code to humanities students, as means through which students can interact and communicate with heterogeneous, oftentimes conflicting communities that comprise the public sphere. Questioning the constraints of conventional (pen-and-paper) writing assignments through theories of procedural rhetoric, Russo addresses the creative process as simulated identity in action, communal and reciprocal. If one of the objectives of humanities studies is to create better citizens, engagement with the processes that govern citizenship must be restructured in ways that foster rhetorical engagement using technologies that encourage dynamic discourse. By allowing both readers and writers a sense of dynamism absent from traditional (pen-and-paper) assignments, code can help to reorient student writing along an axis of social action. This approach brings together the philosophies of Burke and Bogost insofar as it recognizes language as a progressive system of symbols and terms that frame authorial identity — language not limited by written or spoken word. By introducing humanities students to encoded, axiological structures that sustain algorithmic argumentation, we foster creative techniques adapted to new systems of symbols and terms that more and more become ubiquitous in public conversation. In short, students who themselves create procedural, interactive arguments have a better understanding of the dynamic, dialectical models that shape realties, communities, cultures, and beliefs. To teach code is to provide a uniquely accessible platform on which students can negotiate new modes of civic understanding.

FLOW-MATIC and fluency in programming Mark Marino (University of Southern California; markcmarino at gmail.com)
Critical Code Studies investigates the layers of communication between humans and machines through computer source code. As computer literacy continues to expand beyond professional programmers, more accessible languages will be in high demand. While one might assume languages which are closer to natural languages are more accessible, easier to read and write, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, these boundaries of understanding and uptake help outline the additional literacy requirements of what Jeanette Wing calls “computational thinking.” Natural languages become difficult to use and adopt at the point at which coding proves itself other than person-to-person communication. I will explore this aspect of programming languages through a case study. In the early days of programming languages, Grace Hopper developed FLOW-MATIC, a pre-COBOL language, designed to make programming more accessible to business people. The language used natural language tokens, such as the word EQUALS for the = sign. As it turned out, using tokens that look like English did not make programming easier. While the ideas of FLOW-Matic would later become COBOL, many programmers at the time prefered FORTRAN, a contemporaneous language with a more encoded and abbreviated syntax. Although FLOW-MATIC may have failed as a programming language the quest for an Englishlike language emphasizes the human audience of code. Using the Methods of CCS, I close read a passage of FLOW-MATIC in light of Annette Vee’s theorization of coding literacy.

Code as Diegetic Language in LARP Samara Hayley Steele (University of Southern California; samarahayleysteele at gmail.com)

Live Action Role Play or larp presents procedurally governed narrative play. In autumn of 2003, I encountered my first campaign larp, and was charmed by this peculiar practice of creating an augmented sociality in which people shout commands at each other, and, if executed properly, these commands are unwaveringly obeyed. The use of command-phrases and -actions in many campaign larps allow players to fluidly incorporate fantasy elements into the social narrative, such as throwing lightening bolts or casting love spells, as well as incorporating morally undesirable behavior such as murder and torture. These rule sets provide a procedural model of command and consequence, allowing players to swiftly resolve “non-real” activities without enacting them, and to do so with relative autonomy from the game staff. Code is a linguistic form that is both declarative and imperative (Buswell 2009), and with larp rules fitting this definition, they can be interpreted as “code that runs on humans.” Through the methodological approach of Critical Code Studies (Marino 2006) the form of this code can be more readily studied, allowing game designers to develop games in which the social materiality arises more fluidly from the rules. Likewise, the codic sociality of larp provides a neutral setting to observe the way social codes underlay that processes of reification (Lukács 1923) through which our political economic structures take shape.

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