Review: Cutting Code. Software And Sociality – Adrian Mackenzie

Cutting Code: Software And Sociality (Digital Formations)Peter Lang, New York, NY, USA 2006
216 pp. Paperback, $31.95 USD
ISBN 0-8204-7823-7
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Cutting Code addresses the subject of software that has previously been marginalized due to its invisibility. Software is a very mutable object that is entangled in a web of relations. Mackenzie thus sees software as a social object and process that is intrinsically linked to code as a material and practice. Software has previously been studied from a formalist approach by Manovich. The problem with such an approach is that software is abstracted from practices and contexts surrounding coding and reduced to “relations and operations (such as sorting, comparing, copying, removing) on items of data.”1 These relations and operations are seen as quite stable forms and are often directly transfered from the field of computer science. Instead of abstracting and formalizing software Mackenzie argues for an ontology of software that deals with the mutability of software and its web of relations. Code is at the core of this web that software weaves:

[…] it treats the sociality of the software, the relations that obtain in its neighborhood, as mutable, involuted agential relations indexed by code.2

Mackenzie contributes to the emerging field of Software Studies with an interesting take on code and software. We should render software visible and notice the agency it provides, generates and distributes:

At stake here is an account of software as a highly involuted, historically media-specific distribution of agency. This account diverges from a general sociology of technology in highlighting the historical, material specificity of code as a labile, shifting nexus of relations, forms and practices. It regards software formally as a set of permutable distributions of agency between people, machines and contemporary symbolic environments carried as code. Code itself is structured as a distribution of agency.3

  1. Mackenzie, Adrian. Cutting Code: Software And Sociality. Peter Lang Pub Inc, 2006. p. 4 []
  2. Mackenzie, Adrian. Cutting Code: Software And Sociality. Peter Lang Pub Inc, 2006. p. 19 []
  3. Mackenzie, Adrian. Cutting Code: Software And Sociality. Peter Lang Pub Inc, 2006. p. 19 []

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