Information Access Seminar

Mutual Recursion: What Happens When Politics Becomes Code?

Friday, September 13, 2013
3:10 pm to 5:00 pm
Warren Sack, UC Santa Cruz
There is a growing appreciation for what Richard Rogers of the University of Amsterdam (2004) has called 'back-end politics," specifically how the detailed, internal workings of search engines, social networking sites, databases, electronic voting machines, and other computer and networking technologies have clear political implications. As more and more people go online to participate in the so-called "network society" (Manuel Castells, 1996), the need for the study of this kind of work in the domain of computers and networks is especially crucial and has been developing, in the last few years, under a few different labels including "digital methods," "digital humanities," "infrastructure studies," "platform studies," and, "software studies." I propose that studies of this sort need to be complemented by another kind of work that might be most simply termed as "software design." Specifically, now that the language of politics is inextricably woven into the code base of the Internet, a new form of political philosophy should be pursued by academics and researchers: specifically, the translation of democratic values from prose into programs. In short, my proposal is this: not only should we be studying the political implications of existing software, we should also be designing and writing prototype software that articulates the vagaries and values of democracy so that industry and government alike have multiple points of reference when they go about building large-scale platforms that increasingly mediate our personal, professional, social, and political institutions. A series of examples from my work will be presented.

Warren Sack, former School of Information faculty member, is a software designer and media theorist whose work explores theories and designs for online public space and public discussion. He is professor of film & digital media at the University of California, Santa Cruz; and associate director of the Data & Democracy Initiative at UC CITRIS. During the 2012-2013 academic year, he was an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Digital Innovation Fellow; a visiting professor at the Department of Economic and Social Sciences at Télécom ParisTech; and a visiting professor at the médialab of Sciences Po. He earned a B.A. from Yale College and an S.M. and Ph.D. from the MIT Media Laboratory. Warren's writings on new media and computer science have been published widely. He is currently working on a book for the MIT Press "Software Studies" series. His art work has been shown at the ZKM|Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the artport of the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Last updated:

March 26, 2015