It has actually been two years since the last issue of Computational Culture was published. A combination of the pandemic and academic ‘restructuring’ at more than one institution resulted in a delay that seems characteristic of the times. More broadly, the increasing demands on researchers have meant that the normal process of peer review has become longer, more sporadic, and difficult to establish, something recognised across many kinds of journals in the last few years. As a result, we are even more grateful than usual to the many reviewers who, through their considerable generosity in terms of time and detailed feedback, worked on the articles featured here. It is this hidden aspect of the collective effort that makes the journal possible and ensures the quality of the articles, so we would like to commence this issue by thanking all of those who brought it into being.
As always, Computational Culture serves as a transdisciplinary forum for the development of Software Studies—a field that is growing and transforming. In this issue, there is much evidence of this process, with diverse contributions from multiple locations, using varied conceptual tools, and interacting with a wide array of broader concerns and debates.
Paolo Cardullo, Ramon Ribera-Fumaz, and Paco González Gil offer an insider’s perspective on the development of Decidim, a free and open-source software platform for civic participation created in collaboration with Barcelona City Council under the recent mayorship of Ada Colau and Barcelona en Comun. This platform is designed to foster accountability, transparency, and civic participation in local politics. Born partly out of the ‘movement of the squares’, the software strives to emulate the mass open decision-making and deliberation integral to city life. Here, the platform’s key developers reflect on its inception.
Linda Hilfling Rittasdatter explores the overlooked role of the supposedly obsolete programming language COBOL in global information architectures. She uncovers a hidden back-back-end where programmers in India maintain COBOL systems that enable smooth global flows. The analysis exposes the disparity between user experience and the ongoing maintenance processes and addresses power dynamics and global inequalities tied to COBOL maintenance. The article challenges linear forms of technological and socio-economic development, and instead emphasises the dependence of the Global North on the labour and knowledge from the Global South.
In the article ‘Days Without Clouds: Realism, Images, and Target Classifiers at Google Earth Engine,’ Nicole Sansone investigates the production of a high-resolution, cloudless depiction of the earth’s topography by the Google Earth Engine team, a task accomplished by removing clouds from over forty years of satellite images. While the visual allure of this cloud-free Earth illustration presents a compelling ‘realism’ according to its developers, Sansone argues that the absence of suitable aesthetic models and language can introduce complexities into digital methods that influence the production and the character of digital knowledge.
The Louvain algorithm for social network analysis is a widely-used method for depicting data relationships in terms of networks and for characterizing groupings of such data as a ‘community’. In this article, Schindler and Fuller analyse the epistemic politics of the algorithm and provide a genealogy for it, drawing on literature from the social sciences and theoretical physics. They argue that the notion of ‘heuristic’ is key to understanding the kinds of claims that can be made using this technique, but also emphasize that a ‘critical heuristics’ is necessary to engage with the objects and practices of knowledge in data science more generally – towards this, the authors offer a sample set of concepts and practices towards such a critical heuristics.
This issue includes two ‘comments’, articles that, while not peer-reviewed, provide vital contributions to the ongoing dialogue. Firstly, we feature a roundtable discussion among the editors of the Software Studies book series at MIT Press. This series, now managed by a team comprising Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Winnie Soon, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and Jichen Zhu, has published some key books in the field and under new editorship looks set to continue posing challenging questions about the nature of computational culture. The roundtable provides a sense of the direction and scope of the series.
Greg Elmer’s article, From the First to the Zero Person Perspective: Neutering the Mediated Life of Affinity suggests a tentative new figure of the user in computational culture. Whilst much academic and popular debate in recent years has focused on the purported functions of personalisation algorithms and offered remedies, this article proposes a shift in focus, away from arguments for transparency, to a provocatively neutral perspective.
Felix Stalder gets to grips with Justin Jocque’s ‘Revolutionary Mathematics, Artificial Intelligence, Statistics and the Logic of Capitalism.’ This work explores Bayes’ Theorem’s role in modern computing systems and the broader issue of prediction in relation to current capitalism.
Alan Diaz provides a review of Seb Franklin’s ‘The Digitally Disposed: Racial Capitalism and the Informatics of Value’, a grimly fascinating trawl through precursor techniques and ideas that provide some armature to present socio-economic forms and their predication on racial capitalism. Making working machines out of ‘unreliable components’ such as people, often racialised ones, has long subtended the utopias of capitalism and cybernetic perfection. This book presents, Diaz argues, a powerful diagnostics and ….
Neda Genova reviews the first volume of the Institute for Network Culture’s ‘Critical Meme Reader’ series. This anthology consists of a series of detailed analyses of specific meme instances and types, in relation to a substantial number of regions, tropes, modes of operation, and approaches to critical analysis, offering a significant collection of scholarly work on the topic of memes.
Warren Sack engages with Jacob Gaboury’s ‘Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics’—a book offering an in-depth exploration of part of computer graphics history. The review asks what is at stake and what kinds of historiographies are adopted when histories of computing are compiled.
Finally, thank you for reading this issue!