It was bound to happen. The University of Southern California has introduced a program that studies computer code—not for what it produces, but instead actually examining code through the lens of critical theory. It’s called Critical Code Studies, and it’s one of the most exciting nascent fields of academic studies out there. Henry Jenkins did an interview with Mark Marino, head of the Critical Code Studies department at USC, and he had this to say.
Critical Code Studies finds code meaningful not as text but “as a text,” an artifact of a digital moment, full of hooks for discussing digital culture and programming communities. I should note that Critical Code Studies also looks at code separated from functioning software as in the case of some codework poetry, such as Mez’s work or Zach Blas’ trasnCoder anti-programming language. To that extent, Critical Code Studies is also interested in the culture of code, the art of code, and code in culture more broadly.
The interview is fairly in-depth, going in on the possibilities of CSS becoming an imperialist text, the “aesthetics of beautiful code,” and the placing code within the context of the larger cultural forms with which it interacts.