Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Assistant Professor
University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies

Coding Culture

Course Description

The dichotomy between technology and culture is vanishing in a society that recognizes more and more the fact that culture and technology are deeply intertwined. Computer technology and software have a big impact on cultural practices, and at the same time cultural discourses on technology are shaping the construction of technical artefacts. The aim of this course is to study the mutual influences between technology, culture and artefacts. The students will be divided into two groups. The students will investigate the agency of technology in the information society. The Actor Network Theory and Latour's notion of the 'thing' will be used to map and revisit the relations between artefacts (technology) and developers and users (culture). Based on existing literature on the subject, students will explore the following themes:

  • The medium specific characteristics of computer technology and software
  • The agency of computers, software and protocols
  • Connections and influences between artefacts, developers and users
  • The parliament of things (Latour) for the information society

Course Objectives

Students will learn to differentiate different approaches to describe and research technology. By reading literature from the field of Science and Technology Studies (S+TS) with special focus upon Actor Network Theory (ANT) students will obtain the terminology and methods of this field and be able to apply them to their own research. They will develop a balanced understanding towards the "nature" of technology and its socio-political denotation.


  • Assignments are due to every Friday 12:00, posted to the discussion forum on the course's website (do not post attachments).
  • Presentations are due to the Friday before. Students presenting in Monday's class meetings have attend the consultation hour on Friday (13:00-15:00).
  • Final paper is due to 26th January 2007; 12:00 in the courses pigeon hole on the first floor at KNG 29 and by e-mail to mirko [dot] schaefer [at] let.uu.nl as rtf, txt or doc; (individual works only; group papers are not admitted).

Week 1: Science and Technology. Introduction, Plenary Session 13.11.2006

Introduction (Mirko Tobias Schäfer)

Compulsory Reading

Rammert, Werner (1999), Relations that Constitute Technology and Media that Make a Difference: Toward a Social Pragmatic Theory of Technicization, in Phil + Tech, 4:3, 1999. -> Online (pdf)

Bowler, Peter J; Morus, Iwan Rhys (2005), Making Modern Science. A Historical Survey, Chapter 17: Science and Technology, pp. 391-414. -> Collegeplank

Week 2: Technological Nature, Plenary Session 20.11.2006

Compulsory Reading

Feenberg, Andrew (1999), Questioning Technology, New York: Routeledge, Chapter 1: Technology, Philosophy, Politics, pp. 1-19.

Bense, Max (1999), Technische Existenz, in Elisabeth Walther (ed.), Max Bense. Ausgewählte Schriften in vier Bänden, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, Bd. 3, S. 122-146. [Original: 1949]

Further Reading:

Marx, Karl (1872), Marx: Das Kapital; Kapitel 13: Maschinerie und große Industrie. -> Online text.

Stoker, Bram (1897), Dracula. -> Online text.

Further Viewing

Berlin, Die Sinfonie der Großstadt, Walter Ruttmann, D/1927, -> Online.

Koyaanisqatsi, Life out of Balance, Godfrey Reggio, USA/1982. -> IMDB.


Presentation 2A: The Representation of Technology in Karl Marx: Das Kapital

Presentation 2B: The Representation of Technology in Bram Stoker: Dracula

Presentation 2C: Technological Nature in Koyaanisqatsi, Life out of Balance and Berlin, Die Sinfonie der Großstadt.

Week 3: Technological Systems, Plenary Session 27.11.2006

Compulsory Reading

Hughes, Thomas P. (1987), Evolution of Large Technological Systems, in Bijker, W. E.; Hughes, T.P.; Pinch, T.: The Social Construction of Technological Systems, pp. 51-82. -> Collegeplank.

Mumford, L. (1966), The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development; Chapter 9: The Design of the Megamachine, pp. 188-211.

Further Viewing

Brazil, Terry Gilliam, USA/1985. -> IMDB.


Presentation 3A: The Understanding of Machine and Machinery

Presentation 3B: The Bureaucratic Machine

Week 4: Science and Technology, S+TS, SCOT, ANT. Plenary Session 4.12.2006

Compulsory Reading

Sismondo, Sergio (2003), Science and Technology Studies, p. 65-74.

Latour, Bruno (2005), Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor Network Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 1

Further Reading

Law, John; Callon, Michel (1992), The Life and Death of an Aircraft: A Network Analysis of Technical Change, in Bijker, Wiebe; Law, John: Shaping Technology / Building Society, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992, pp. 21-52. -> Collegeplank.

Geoff Bowker (1992), What is in a patent?, in Bijker, Wiebe; Law, John: Shaping Technology / Building Society, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992, pp. 53-74. -> Collegeplank.


Presentation 4A: Researching Technology. Key concepts of Science and Technology Studies.

Presentation 4B: The terminology of Actor Network Theory

Presentation 4C: Networks of Human and Non-human Actors.

Week 5: Software. Plenary Session 11.12.2006

Compulsory Reading

Kittler, Friedrich (1996), There is no Software, in Druckery, Thomas; Alluquerque-Stone, Roseanne: Electronic Culture, New York: Aperture, pp. 331-337. -> Online text.

Suber, Peter (1988), What is Software, in Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 2, 2 (1988) 89-119, Online text.

Wall, Larry (1999) Perl, the first postmodern programming language; Lecture at Linux World 1999. Online text.

Huthamo, Erkki (2003), Webstalker Seeks Aaron, in Stocker, G.; Schöpf, C. (eds): Code. The Language of Our Time, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje-Cantz, 2003, pp. 110-118, Online (pdf).

Further Reading

Bolter, Jay David (1984), Turing's Man Western Culture in the Computer Age, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, Chapter 3, pp. 43-46. -> Collegeplank.

Hofstadter, Douglas (1980), Gödel, Escher, Bach. An Eternal Golden Braid, London: Penguin Books, Chapter 10: Levels of Description, and Computer Systems, pp. 285-309.-> Collegeplank.

Turing, Alan (1950), Computing Machinery and Intelligence, in Copeland, Jack (Ed), The Essential Turing, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press: 2004, pp. 433-463. -> Collegeplank. -> Reprint from the original journal publication online.


Presentation 5A: Universal and Special Machines. Computers and Software

Presentation 5B: Software between Language and Machinery

Week 6: Making Machines, Designing Software. Plenary Session 18.12.2006

Compulsory Reading

Dyson, Freeman J. (1998), Science as Craft Industry, in Science 15 May 1998: Vol. 280. no. 5366, pp. 1014 - 1015. -> Online text.

Nadin, Miha (1998), Civilisation of Illiteracy, Dresden: Dresden University Press, Chapter 10: The Sense of Design, pp. 590-610. -> Online book (pdf).

Further Reading

to be announced by students


Presentation 6A: The Cultural Contribution of the Computer Virus

Presentation 6B: Software between Craftsmanship and Engineering

Presentation 6C: The Meaning of Code

Week 7: Politics and Technology. Plenary Session 8.1.2007

Compulsory Reading

Latour, Bruno: From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, in Latour, Bruno; Weibel, Peter: Making Things Public, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 4-31. Online as pdf.

Latour, Bruno (1991), Technology is Society Made Durable, in Law: A sociology of Monsters : essays on power, technology and domination, pp. 103-131. -> Collegeplank.

Further Reading

to be announced by students


Presentation 7A: The Representation of Things

Presentation 7B: Technological Regimes and Technological Codes

Week 8: Design and Society. Plenary Session 15.1.2007

Deleuze, Gilles (1992), Postscript on the Societies of Control, OCTOBER #59, Winter 1992, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 3-7. -> Online text.

Jackson, Daniel (2006), Dependable Software by Design, in Scientific American, 22.5.2006. -> Online text.

Walker, John: The Digital Imprimatur, in Knowledge, Technology, and Policy, Fall 2003, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 24-77. -> Online text.


Presentation 8A: Designing Social Behaviour

Presentation 8B: Designs for Resistance

Presentation 8C: Discrepancy and Debates in Software Design

Course Library (Collegeplank) located at the library of the Faculty of Arts.

Bijker, Wiebe Eco : Shaping technology, building society : studies in sociotechnical change / ed. by Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts, etc. : The MIT Press, 1992.

Bolter, Jay David : Turing's man : Western culture in the computer age / by J. David Bolter; London : Duckworth, 1984.

Bowker, C. Geoffrey: Social science, technical systems, and cooperative work : beyond the great divide / ed. by Geoffrey C. Bowker ... [et al.]. Mahwah, NJ, [etc.] : Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997.

Bowler, Peter J. : Making modern science : a historical survey / Peter J. Bowler and Iwan Rhys Morus. Chicago [etc.] : Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005.

Callon, Michel: Mapping the dynamics of science and technology : sociology of science in the real world / ed. by Michel Callon, John Law [and] Arie Rip. Basingstoke, Hampshire, [etc.] : MacMillan, 1986.

Ceruzzi, Paul Edward : A history of modern computing / Paul E. Ceruzzi. Cambridge, MA. [etc.] : MIT Press, 1998.

Druckrey, T. (ed.) : Ars electronica : facing the future : a survey of two decades. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT, 1999.

Friedman, Batya: Human values and the design of computer technology / ed. by Batya Friedman. Stanford, California, [etc.] : CSLI Publications [etc.], 1997.

Galloway, Alexander R. : Protocol : how control exists after decentralization / Galloway, Alexander R.: Cambridge, Massachusetts, [etc.] : MIT Press, 2004.

Hayles, Nancy Katherine : Writing machines / N. Katherine Hayles ; designer Anne Burdick; ed. direc. Peter Lunenfeld. Cambridge, MA [etc.] : MIT Press, 2002.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. : Gödel, Escher, Bach : an eternal golden braid / [by] Douglas R. Hofstadter. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, [etc.] : Penguin Books, 1982.

Latour, Bruno : Science in action : how to follow scientists and engineers through society / [by] Bruno Latour. Milton Keynes : Open Univ. Press, 1987.

Latour, Bruno : We have never been modern / [by] Bruno Latour ; transl. [from the French] by Catherine Porter. New York [etc.] : Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.

Law, John: A sociology of monsters: essays on power, technology and domination / ed. By John Law. London [etc.] : Routledge, 1991.

Moles, Abraham Andre : Art et ordinateur / Abraham A. Moles ; avec la collab. de Marie-Luce Andr�. Tournai : Casterman, 1971.

Mumford, Lewis : The myth of the machine / by Lewis Mumford. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967-1970.

Nelson, Ted : Computer lib ; Dream machines / Ted Nelson ; [introd. by Stewart Brand]. Redmond, Wash. : Tempus Books of Microsoft Press, 1987.

Pynchon, Thomas : Gravity's rainbow / by Thomas Pynchon. New York : Viking Press, 1973.

Scharff, Robert C. et al. : Philosophy of technology : the technical condition / ed. by Robert C. Scharff and Val Dusek. Malden, Ma, [etc.] : Blackwell, 2002.

Schot, J.W. et al.: Techniek in Nederland in de twintigste eeuw / ed. by J. W. Schot [et al.]. Zutphen [etc.] : Walburg Pers [etc.], 1998-2003.

Sloterdijk, Peter : Schaeume / Peter Sloterdijk. Frankfurt am Main : Suhrkamp, 2004.

Stocker, Gerfried; Schöpf, Christine: Code : code: the language of our time : code=law code=art code=life / ed. by Gerfried Stocker; Christine Schöpf. Ostfildern-Ruit : Hatje Cantz, 2003.

Turing, Alan Mathison : The essential Turing : seminal writings in computing, logic, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and artificial life plus the secrets of Enigma / ed. by B. Jack Copeland. Oxford [etc.] : Clarendon Press, 2004.

Winograd, Terry : Understanding computers and cognition : a new foundation for design / [by] Terry Winograd [and] Fernando Flores. Reading, Massachusetts, [etc.] : Addison-Wesley, 1988.

Date November 2006 Category University

ICT and the Constitution of Culture
MA course, blok 2 2006/07; 7,5 ECTS

2000 - 2017 Mirko Tobias Schäfer

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