code, data, around dh in 80 days

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 whatiscode-javascriptconsole

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In addition to the wide-ranging and approachable explanation on the scope of code and software, the persona employed by Paul Ford in the What is Code? article conveys something worth noting: the corporate context that much characterizes the world of software development. And as Ford briefly notes, code/software and data are like the chicken and egg in the planetary computational environment that we are witnessing. Kitchin’s observation that the definition and delimination of data is not independent of the thought system and the instruments underpinning their production holds for code as well.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The abundance of data and its importance in social and personal functioning means that we cannot see data just as representation; it is very much substantial, and performs an ontological role that levels with real objects and the human subject, in a Latourian sense. As Kitchin quotes from Gitelman and Jackson, “if data are somehow subject to us, we are also subject to data.” I think one way to rephrase this is that the locus of human (computational) activity is flesh and data at the same time; different layers of physicality and abstraction operating concurrently. Same goes with code. Code is less something written by a developer that exists separately on a machine, than a channel through which humans perform their activities more and more. Then a bigger urgency is given to observing the context within which such code is created and propagated; corporate culture in the case of Ford’s article.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 On a separate but loosely related note, Around DH in 80 Days‘ self-curatorial approach (it is a DH project on DH projects) was interesting and pleasant to follow. The focus on a humanities context and people’s activities around the world seemed like a celebration of the field, and of diversity within it. I tend to think of DH in a Western higher education context, but this project comes across me as an effort to testify that DH is more than a regional trend. There is something here that feels valuable and hopeful.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0  

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 References

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Ford, Paul. “What is code.” Bloomberg Businessweek 11 (2015).
Kitchin, Rob. The data revolution: Big data, open data, data infrastructures and their consequences. Sage, 2014.
Around DH in 80 Days.

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  1. Posted November 30, 2016 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    I love the connection between flesh and data, Achim. Unfortunately, I don’t know Latour very well. Are you using him to say that we reify data, or that data have materiality and we erase it? Maybe something else completely because I don’t understand this?

    We think of data as something virtual and represented, but, like everything else, it has its own materiality—on your hard drive, on a remote server in northern California connected to the internet.

  2. Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    @tlewek thanks for the feedback and sorry for the late reply.

    I do think that as you pointed out, the materiality of data is sometimes overlooked. And that can be a way of distinguishing between the human subject and data—the technological artifact. But perhaps the distinction is not as obvious as one might think; as human beings with flesh we might be closer to our data than, say, a reality(us)-representation(data) relationship. Because the tools used to operate on data, are increasingly the same as tools that operate on actual human beings.

    An artwork in view at the Glass Room ( exhibition seems relevant. Heather Dewey-Hagborg ( is an artist who works with, among other fields, bioengineering and computation; a number of her projects engage with DNA forensics. There exist companies that provide computational predictions for someone’s appearance based on their DNA, for example ( One of Dewey-Hagborg’s project, Invisible ( provides an open source toolkit for erasing the user’s DNA trace. I find the parallels and merging between physical and digital interesting (bio surveillance and data surveillance; digital traces and DNA traces; statistical analysis and prediction in both cases), and perhaps revealing that the two are not that different—at least in the context of technological development.

    Dewey-Hagborg’s article provides more critical context about her take on bioengineering technology (that is applied in social contexts), and many of her points strikingly resonate with critiques of big data / AI:
    Sci-Fi Crime Drama With a Strong Black Lead, on the New Inquiry

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