There is nothing outside of software*
Why Software Studies in Brazil
The research line of Software Studies was drawn by Lev Manovich in his book The Language of New Media (MIT Press, 2001), and it had a deep impact on the field of new media studies. The turn proposed by Manovich was considered a first step toward the establishment of a criticism of the technological apparatus, and it has shown the limits that confined us when we analyzed computer systems from the external elements of the machine's processing, from the pure hardware that ran the processes and produced effects in terms of image and calculation.
During February 25 and 26, 2006, Matthew Fuller, professor at the Goldsmiths College in London, organized the first Software Studies Workshop in Rotterdam, and led off a more encompassing project of analyzing software from aspects related to human sciences. The book Software Studies: a lexicon (MIT Press, 2008) contains the result of that first meeting, with texts analyzing the algorithms' "gender", the cultural properties of code and the forms and grammatical structures of programming languages in relation to the aesthetic subjects of databases in contemporaneity, the communicational and ideological processes involved in code, among many other interdisciplinary topics related to computer science, engineering and humanities.
In 2008, on May 21-22, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) hosted the Software Studies Workshop, with specialists from different parts of the world and one objective: to lay down the foundations of that research area and elaborate a methodological instrument for implementing research in that field, which is still being worked out.
The Software Studies field is an emerging area, still in construction, and its object is to analyze in detail the transformations operated by the Software culture in contemporary societies, not just looking of the "effects" produced by software, but observing the grammar of those images' signification process, attempting to the codes that are used, to the ideological processes that regulate the programming language, to the gender studies that may be analyzed in an accurate reading of a processing language, among several other layers that now go unnoticed to more than 90% of researchers in the field of communication and information technologies. Each object created via software generates a new reality of the machine's usefulness, sometimes transforming it into an image-projection device, a calculator or even into a social-relationships machine. In all those examples, what produces a real effect on culture is the way how we create the languages and significances to which they are subjected, that is to say, the communicational process is once again structured between the form of the emission and the content to be emitted.
The software's function is to shape the emission process and, at the same time, to build the image to be communicated. It means that the software occupies simultaneously the place of the language and that of the signification process; it is at the same time the form and the content of what one means, and could occupy both spaces at the same time, diluting the classic dichotomy in an irreversible way and creating others in a still intangible way.
The Software Studies field analyzes the software culture profusion and how software growingly modify processes in several levels, interfering on our way of teaching, researching, knowing and consuming, besides the social and political mechanisms which today make part of software uses in all the layers of public administrations in almost every nation in the world.
Brazil has an important role in the discussions on Software Studies, in several levels. Since the emergence of the Internet, the country has tried to align with software-related policies that intend to modify the processes through which societies are organized around knowledge, that is, it has looked for alternatives to the maintenance of proprietary systems and has been in several stalemates in relation to what systems to use in its websites, in its internal operations, in documentation and data cataloguing processes, among many others. The creation of a more open practice regarding the software field led Brazil to occupy a prominent place among communities that work with Open Source, free software, and in the intellectual property regulatory agencies around the world.
The questions we can make now are: which was the cultural significance of Open Source to Brazil in terms of democratization of the access to information? Which are the cultural changes we can notice with the use of non-proprietary software? What is the vision that we, Brazilians, have of a government that proposes the use of non-proprietary software or systems in its own structure, for example, the Ministry of Culture website, that uses the Wordpress system in its pages? How can we deconstruct computational processes operated through software and turn them into a language?
The Software Studies group will try to answer those and many other questions in its monthly meetings, that will happen at FILE Labo, at first in São Paulo, but that may be extended to other institutions interested in thinking that new reality we face today.
The construction of this Initiative has taken a few years, beginning with the visit of the researcher Noah Wardrip-Fruin to Brazil in 2006, for a series of conferences in universities and cultural centers, and with the development of a post-doctoral program in the are of interactive technologies, software studies and communication, developed by me between 2006 and 2007 at the Department of Communication, under the supervision of Wardrip-Fruin and Ted Nelson, with the support of CAPES, at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). With this initiative in Brazil we intend to analyze how to insert the country in the software culture field and how we can analyze subjects related to the dissemination of knowledge and culture, living in a society of software, governed by the languages of the computational process and by communication methods mediated by computer structures.
Round table with Lev Manovich, Jeremy Douglass, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Cicero Silva: Software Studies opening at the FILE Symposium 2008, Brazil (video).
* Based on Jacques Derrida's statement "there is nothing outside writing".