English "Programming as a Cultural Technique" syllabus (final version)

We're about a month into the course I'm teaching on "Programming as a Cultural Technique." A few friends asked for copies of the syllabus, so I've inserted it below (fuller version attached as PDF).  Since most of my colleagues are in the USA, I took the liberty of shifting Germanophone readings to the supplementary section and replacing them with what I considered to be appropriate texts in English. Programming lessons are not listed in this text but, for the most part, we spend 2 hours each week working through a successive chapter of the book "Learning Perl." I initially hoped to preplan how the cultural history and programming lessons would interweave but it turns out that striking affinities and overlaps emerge of their own accord.


A lot of friends helped come up with great texts for this course. I express especial thanks to the folks on the SIGCIS and SLSA listservs


Programming as a Cultural Technique


Course Description

Programming undergirds an ever-wider array of our cultural, economic, and political infrastructures. Global finance, electrical power grids, the internet, culture industries, and biomedicine are among the spheres whose everyday procedures depend on computer programs. Yet it was not until the 1980s that engineers and cultural theorists began seriously asking how programming relates to human culture. Early accounts—such as those of Ben Schneiderman and Friedrich Kittler—posited a strong opposition between the logical operations of computer programs and the phenomenological world of human perception. More recent studies in the history of technology, software studies, and critical code studies suggest coextensive and interwoven relations between programming and human culture. This course will offer an introduction to that literature and review seminal reflections by cultural theorists and programmers on what it means “to program.” We will also ask whether programming may be understood as a cultural technique [Kulturtechnik], in the sense given to that term recently by Germanophone media theorists. Topics to be discussed include the ontology of computer code, the interrelations among programming and gender, and the place of software in contemporary political economy.


The course will meet twice a week: Once in the classroom for lectures and discussion, and again in the computer laboratory for instruction in Perl programming. At the end of the semester students have the option of writing a 10-15 page paper or writing a program in Perl.


Learning Goals

Students will become familiar with major topics and themes in recent research on the cultural history and critical theory of programming, critical, software, and cultural techniques. Students will leave the class with the ability to write basic programs in Perl. In-class presentations and discussions, as well as weekly writing responses, will develop students' skills in oral presentation, writing, and analysis.



Required Texts

  • Schwartz, Randal L., Brian D. Foy, and Tom Christiansen. Learning Perl, O'Reilly. USA: O'Reilly, 2011.

  • All other required texts available as PDF on Moodle/Blackboard.


Note: Supplementary texts may be used for in-class presentations or final papers but are not required reading. Supplementary readings that are not online can be obtained directly from the professor.


Required Materials

  • A laptop computer with Perl programming capability must be brought to all courses. Instructions on installation of Perl will be provided in the first session.



Class Participation 25% of final grade

Class Presentation 25% of final grade

Final Paper or Program: 50% of final grade


Class Participation

  • Students are expected to attend class regularly and contribute to class discussions. Failure to do so will negatively effect your grade. Students are required to submit short responses (500 words) to the readings before class on Moodle/Blackboard. Regular and thoughtful contributions to the online forums may serve as a substitute for in-class discussion.


Class Presentation:

  • During the course of the semester students will prepare one class presentation based on a selection from the week's supplementary readings. The presentation should be around 15 minutes long, with a brief introduction to the week's main readings followed by a longer discussion of how the secondary texts contextualize and complicate the main readings. The creative and instructive use of visual media or handouts is encouraged. Students with relevant personal or professional experiences (e.g. with digital art, working in social media, etc.) are welcome (and encouraged!) to incorporate that knowledge into their presentations. Students are encouraged to consult with the professor during office hours for help preparing their presentations.


Final Paper or Program:

  • At the end of the term students may write a research paper of ten to fifteen pages that deals with topics and texts treated in the course lectures. Students are also welcome to write a program for their final assignment. All students are required to prepare a short one-page proposal describing their final project, and discuss it with the professor, three weeks before the final class meeting.


Students with Disabilities

The professor is available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations that you may require as a student with a disability. Request for academic accommodations need to be made during the first week of the semester, except for unusual circumstances, so arrangements can be made.


Academic Integrity

Students are expected to comply with university regulations regarding academic integrity. If you are in doubt about what constitutes academic dishonesty, speak to the instructor before the assignment is due. Failure to maintain academic integrity on an assignment will result in a loss of credit for that assignment – at a minimum. Other penalties may also apply.


Sexual Harassment Policy

No member of the course of the university community – students, faculty, administrators, or staff - may sexually harass any other member of the community. Individuals should contact the professor, dean, or university administrators if they have questions or concerns regarding sexual harassment.



Course Schedule


[weekly sessions in the computer lab not listed]


Introduction: Is Programming a Cultural Technique?


  • Geoghegan, Bernard Dionysius. “The Culture and Technique of Kulturtechnik.” Theory, Culture & Society. [forthcoming]

  • Krämer, Sybille. “The Cultural Techniques of Time Axis Manipulation: On Friedrich Kittler’s Conception of Media.” Theory, Culture & Society 23, no. 7/8 (December 2006): 93–109.

  • Siegert, Bernhard. “Cacography or Communication? Cultural Techniques in German Media Studies.” Grey Room 29, no. Winter 2008 (2007): 26–47.

  • Siegert, Bernhard. “The Map Is the Territory.” Radical Philosophy, no. 169 (October 2011): 13–16.


Supplementary Readings:

    • Krämer, Sybille, and Horst Bredekamp. “Kultur, Technik, Kulturtechnik: Wider Die Diskursivierung Der Kultur.” In Bild, Schrift, Zahl, edited by Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp, 11–22. Munich: Wilhelm FInk, 2008.

    • Macho, Thomas. “Zeit Und Zahl: Kalender- Und Zeitrechnung Als Kulturtechniken.” In Bild, Schrift, Zahl, edited by Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp, 179–192. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2008.

    • Maye, Harun. “Was Ist Eine Kulturtechnik?” Zeitschrift Für Medien- Und Kulturforschung, no. 1 (2010): 121–137.

    • Schüttpelz, Erhard. “Die Medienanthropologische Kehre Der Kulturtechniken.” Archiv Für Mediengeschichte (2006): 87–110.

    • Siegert, Bernhard. “Kulturtechnik.” In Einführung in Die Kulturwissenschaft, edited by Harun Maye and Leander Scholz, 95–118. Munich: UTB, 2007.


What is Software Studies?


  • Dijkstra, Edsger W. “The Humble Programmer.” Commun. ACM 15, no. 10 (October 1972): 859–866.

  • Fuller, Matthew, ed. “Introduction.” In Software Studies: A Lexicon, 1–14. USA: The MIT Press, 2008.

  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge.” Grey Room (January 2004): 26–51.

  • Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Control. “[Introduction and Chapter 1.]” [online at www.softwarestudies.com].

  • Cox, Geoff, and Adrian Ward. “Perl.” In Software Studies: A Lexicon, edited by Matthew Fuller, 207-213. The MIT Press, 2008.


Supplementary Readings:

    • Fuller, Matthew. Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software. New York: Autonomedia, 2003.

    • Galloway, Alexander R. “Language Wants To Be Overlooked: On Software and Ideology.” Journal of Visual Culture 5, no. 3 (December 1, 2006): 315–331.

    • Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. “Virtuality and VRML: Software Studies After Manovich.” Electronic Book Review (August 8, 2003). http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/technocapitalism/morememory.

    • Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Control. [online at www.softwarestudies.com]



What is Code?


  • Kittler, Friedrich. “Code.” In Software Studies: A Lexicon, edited by Matthew Fuller, 40–47. USA: The MIT Press, 2008.

  • Marino, Mark. “Critical Code Studies.” Electronic Book Review (September 4, 2006). http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/codology/.

  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “On Sourcery and Source Codes [Chapter 1].” In Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.


Supplementary Readings:



Software vs. Hardware


  • Kay, Alan. “Computer Software.” Scientific American 251, no. 3 (September 1984): 52–59.

  • Kittler, Friedrich A. “There Is No Software.” In Literature, Media, Information Systems, edited by John Johnston, 147–155. Amsterdam: G+B Arts International, 1997.


Supplementary Readings:

  • Montfort, Nick, and Ian Bogost. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2009.











Preprogramming: From Leibniz to Babbage


  • Williams, Michael R., and Allan G. Bromley. “Early Calculation [Excerpt from ch. 1] and Difference and Analytical Engines [Ch 2].” In Computing Before Computers, edited by William Aspray, 34–96. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990.

  • Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. “Explication De L’arithmetique Binaire, Que Se Sert Seul Caractéres 0 & 1; Avec Des Remarques Sur Son Utilité, & Sur Ce Qu’elle Donne Le Sens Des Anciennes Figures Chinoises De Fohy.” In Histoire De L’Academie Royale Des Sciences, 85–89. Paris: Chez Charles-Estienne Hochereau, 1720. [In English: http://www.leibniz-translations.com/binary.htm.]


Supplementary Readings:

  • Ernst, Wolfgang. “Barocke Kombinatorik Als Theorie-Maschine” (2003). www.medienwissenschaft.hu-berlin.de.

  • Goldstine, Herman H. “A Brief History of the Computer.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 121, no. 5 (October 17, 1977): 339–345.

  • Hochstetter, Erich, Hermann-Josef Greve, Heinz Gumin, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Herrn Von Leibniz’ Rechnung Mit Null Und Eins. Berlin: Siemens Aktiengesellschaft, 1966.

  • Knuth, Donald Ervin. “Positional Number Systems.” In The Art of Computer Programming, 179–198. Addison-Wesley Series in Computer Science and Information Processing. Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1981.

  • Wiener, Norbert. "Introduction" in Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1948.

  • Wiener, Norbert. “Time, Communication, and the Nervous System.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 50, no. 4 (1948): 197–220.



Babbage's Bodies: Gender and Labor in the Difference Engine


  • Babbage, Charles. "[Chapters 1-3]" in Babbage’s Calculating Engines: Being a Collection of Papers Relating to Them, Their History and Construction. Edited by Henry Prevost Babbage. London: E. and F.N. Spon, 1889.

  • Plant, Sadie. “[Excerpts on Ada Lovelace].” In Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture, 3–23, 74–81. London: Fourth Estate, 1997.

  • Schaffer, Simon. “Babbage’s Intelligence: Calculating Engines and the Factory System.” Critical Inquiry 21, no. 1 (October 1, 1994): 203–227.


Supplementary Readings:

  • Babbage, Charles. “On the Division of Mental Labor [Ch. 6].” In On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. London: C. Knight, 1832.

  • Babbage, Charles. Babbage’s Calculating Engines: Being a Collection of Papers Relating to Them, Their History and Construction. Edited by Henry Prevost Babbage. London: E. and F.N. Spon, 1889.

  • Krajewski, Markus. Der Diener: Mediengeschichte Einer Figur Zwischen König Und Klient. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2010.

  • Shannon, Claude E. “Computers and Automata.” Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society 10 (October 1953): 1234–1241.

  • Siegel, Greg. “Babbage’s Apparatus: Toward an Archaeology of the Black Box.” Grey Room (July 2007): 30–55.



What is Programming?


  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Programmability.” In Software Studies: A Lexicon, edited by Matthew Fuller, 224–229. USA: The MIT Press, 2008.

  • Iverson, Kenneth E. “Notation as a Tool of Thought.” Commun. ACM 23, no. 8 (August 1980): 444–465.

  • Ensmenger, Nathan L. “[Chapters 1-2].” The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2010.



Supplementary Readings:

  • Campbell-Kelly, Martin. From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

  • Ensmenger, Nathan L. The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2010.

  • Krajewski, Markus. “Die Kaffeemaschine. Zur Handelsmächtigen Metaphorik der Programmiersprache JAVA.” Österreichische Zeitschrift Für Geschichtswissenschaften 13, no. 3 (n.d.): 87–103.

  • Penny, Simon. “Virtual Reality as the Completion of the Enlightenment Project.” In Culture on the Brink : Ideologies of Technology, edited by Gretchen Bender and Timothy Druckrey, 231–248. Discussions in Contemporary Culture, 1047-6806 ; No. 9. Seattle: Bay Press, 1994.



What is a Database?


  • Bachman, Charles W. “The Programmer as Navigator.” Commun. ACM 16, no. 11 (November 1973): 653–658.

  • Manovich, Lev. “Database as Symbolic Form.” In The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.

  • Bowker, Geoffrey C. [“Chapter 3”]. Memory Practices in the Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005.


Supplementary Readings:

  • Bowker, Geoffrey C. Memory Practices in the Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005.

  • Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. “Wie Werden Aus Spuren Daten, Wie Verhalten Sich Daten Zu Fakten?” Nach Feierabend. Zürcher Jahrbuch Für Wissensgeschichte 3 (2003): 117–125.







What is an Interface?


  • Sutherland, Ivan E. “Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System.” American Federation of Information Processing Societies Conference Proceedings 23 (1963): 329–246.

  • Schneiderman, Ben. “Direct Manipulation: A Step Beyond Programming Languages.” In The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, 485–494. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

  • Cassell, Justine. “Embodied Conversational Agents: Representation and Intelligence in User Interface.” AI Magazine 22, no. 3 (2001): 67–83.

  • Galloway, Alexander R. “The Unworkable Interface.” New Literary History 39, no. 4 (2008): 931–955.


Supplementary Readings:

  • Coleman, Beth. Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

  • Coy, Wolfgang, and Claus Pias. PowerPoint. Macht Und Einfluss Eines Präsentationsprogramms. Frankfurt am Main: Fisher-Taschenbuch, 2009.

  • Licklider, J.C.R. “Man-Computer Symbiosis.” IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics HFE-1 (March 1960): 4–11.

  • Penny, Simon. “Representation, Enaction, and the Ethics of Simulation.” Electronic Book Review, 26 June 2004. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/firstperson/machanimate.



Can Programs Think?


  • Turing, Alan. “Intelligent Machinery.” edited by B. Jack Copeland, 410–432. The Essential Turing. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Naur, Peter. “Computing Versus Human Thinking.” Commun. ACM 50, no. 1 (January 2007): 85–94.

  • Plant, Sadie. “[Excerpts on AI].” In Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture, 90–109. London: Fourth Estate, 1997.


Supplementary Readings:

  • Dreyfus, Hubert. What Computers Can’t Do: The Limits of Artificial Intelligence. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

  • Hayles, N. Katherine. “Traumas of Code.” Critical Inquiry 33, no. 1 (2006): 136–157.

  • Kelty, Christopher M. “Logical Instruments: Regular Expressions, AI and Thinking About Thinking” (2008). www.kelty.org.

  • MacKay, D. M. “Mind-Like Behaviour in Artefacts.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3, no. 12 (1953): 352–353.

  • Newell, Allen, and Herbert Simon. “GPS, A Program That Simulates Human Thought.” edited by Edward A Feigenbaum and Julian Feldman, 279–293.Pias, Claus. Computer Spiel Welten. Berlin: Diaphanes, 2002.

  • Searle, John R. “Minds, Brains, and Programs.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, no. 03 (1980): 417–424.

  • Shannon, Claude. “A Chess-Playing Machine.” Scientific American 182, no. 2 (1950): 48–51.



Political Economies of Code


  • Berry, David. “The Relevance of Understanding Code to International Political Economy.” International Politics 49, no. 2 (2012): 277–296.

  • Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “[Excerpts]” in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by Geoffrey Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

  • Mackenzie, Adrian. “Internationalization.” In Software Studies: A Lexicon, edited by Matthew Fuller. The MIT Press, 2008.


Supplementary Readings:

    • Guattari, Félix, and Gilles Deleuze. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Viking Press, 1977.

    • Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

    • MacKenzie, Adrian. “How to Make Money in Microseconds.” London Review of Books 33, no. 10 (May 19, 2011): 16–18. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n10/donald-mackenzie/how-to-make-money-in-microseconds



Gender and Programming (14.1.13)


  • Light, Jennifer S. “When Computers Were Women.” Technology and Culture 40, no. 3 (1999): 455–483.

  • Turing, A. M. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Mind 59, no. 236 (1950): 433–460.

  • Hayles, N. Katherine. “Prologue” in How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.


Supplementary Readings:

  • Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

  • Hopper, Grace Murray. “The Education of a Computer.” In Proceedings of the 1952 ACM National Meeting (Pittsburgh), 243–249. ACM ’52. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 1952. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/609784.609818.










Aesthetics of Code


  • Dijkstra, Edsger W. “Letters to the Editor: Go to Statement Considered Harmful.” Communications of the ACM 11, no. 3 (March 1968): 147–148.

  • Fuller, Matthew. “Elegance.” In Software Studies: A Lexicon, edited by Matthew Fuller. The MIT Press, 2008.

  • Knuth, Donald E. “Computer Programming as an Art.” Commun. ACM 17, no. 12 (December 1974): 667–673.

  • Hayles, Katherine N. “Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis.” Poetics Today 25, no. 1 (March 20, 2004): 67–90.

  • Marino, Mark. “The Ppg256 Perl Primer: The Poetry of Techneculture.” Emerging Language Practices 1, no. 1. http://epc.buffalo.edu/ezines/elp/issue-1/ppg256.php


Supplementary Readings:

  • Molzberger, Peter. “Und Programmieren Ist Doch Eine Kunst.” In Psychologische Aspekte Der Software Entwicklung, edited by H. Schelle and P. Molzberger. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1983.



Cultures of Coding


  • Stallman, Richard. “The GNU Manifesto” [English: http://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html]

  • Coleman. Gabriella. “The Political Agnosticism of Free and Open Source Software and the Inadvertent Politics of Contrast.” Anthropological Quarterly 77, no. 3 (2004): 507–519.

  • Takhteyev, Yuri. “[Introduction, Ch. 1, Ch. 2]” in Coding Places: Software Practice in a South American City. The MIT Press, 2012.


Supplementary Readings:

  • Berry, David M. Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source. London: Pluto Press, 2008.

  • Mackenzie, Adrian. “The Performativity of Code Software and Cultures of Circulation.” Theory, Culture & Society 22, no. 1 (February 1, 2005): 71–92.

  • Kelty, Christopher M. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.


What is Computer Literacy?


  • Ershov, Andrei P. “Aesthetics and the Human Factor in Programming.” Commun. ACM 15, no. 7 (July 1972): 501–505.

  • Thompson, Ken. “Reflections on Trusting Trust.” Commun. ACM 27, no. 8 (August 1984): 761–763.


Supplementary Reading:

  • Knuth, D. E. “Literate Programming.” The Computer Journal 27, no. 2 (January 1, 1984): 97–111.