Code: Software and Sociality
Peter Lang, New York, NY, USA 2006
216 pp. Paper, $31.95 USD
Reviewed by Rob Harle
Very little serious scholarly research
has been done concerning the notion of
software as a powerful cultural process.
This book redresses this situation in
a rigorous, penetrating way. Given the
ubiquity of software and its associated
code, the dearth of social, cultural investigation
is rather surprising.
Code is embedded in most devices we use
today, not only personal computer software.
Each time we fill our cars with fuel,
do banking, buy groceries at the supermarket
or undergo medical procedures, code and
software are directly involved. As Mackenzie
points out, code does not simply handle
instructions but is dynamically involved
in creating new and modifying existing
social and cultural relations and processes.
Cutting Code: Software and Sociality
has eight chapters with an excellent Reference
section and Index. The titles are as follows:
1 Introduction: Softwarily, 2
Opening Code: Expression and execution
in software, 3 Algorithms, 4
Kernel: Code in time and space, 5
Java: Practical Virtuality, 6 "Pits"
and "traders": Infrastructures in software,
7 Extreme programming: Code as
prototype for software, 8 Conclusion.
The book is not especially complex in
respect of computer technology or programming
language, and any reader familiar with
basic Internet procedures and general
software knowledge will have no problems
in this area. However, as mentioned, this
is a serious and complex work in the discipline
of social and cultural communication studies
and as such is written with this specific
readership principally in mind.
Code is a phenomenon that tends to remain
opaque or hidden behind the scenes, the
stage is the user (friendly?) interface
of software. Most of us never see the
actual code that runs the word processor
or sends the instructions to the printer
to print out our favourite photos. If
you are intrigued to see what an example
of real code looks like, load any web
page from the net, click on View in the
menu bar of your browser, then click on
Source. This will reveal the actual HTML
code that runs behind all the buttons
and graphics and text of the web page.
Adrian Mackenzie researches and teaches
at Lancaster University in the United
Kingdom. He has degrees in science and
philosophy and a PhD in philosophy. He
defines code as: "
index of the relations running among different
classes of entity: originators, prototypes
and recipients. These classes might include
people, situations, organizations, places,
devices, habits and practices" (p. 169).
This book helps us realise just how important,
entrenched, and powerful a few lines of
letters, word, and symbols are in defining
our new existence in the digital age.
Just as the introduction of the clock
and electricity into society dramatically
and permanently changed how we live our
lives, so too has software and its associated
code. "It explores the social forms, identities,
materialities, and the power relations
associated with software, and it asks
how software provokes the re-thinking
of production, consumption and distribution
as entwined cultural processes".
The publication of this book is timely
and it will surely become an essential
reference work for all students and scholars
in the disciplines of social and cultural