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Code and Codings in Crisis : Signification, Performativity and Excess

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date11/2011
JournalTheory, Culture and Society
Number of pages21
Original languageEnglish


The connections between forms of code and coding and the many crises that currently afflict the contemporary world run deep. Code and crisis in our time mutually define, and seemingly prolong, each other in ‘infinite branching graphs’ of decision problems. There is a growing academic literature that investigates digital code and software from a wide range of perspectives –power, subjectivity, governmentality, urban life, surveillance and control, biopolitics or neoliberal capitalism. The various strands in this literature are reflected in the papers that comprise this special issue. They address topics ranging from social networks, mass media, financial markets and academic plagiarism to highway engineering in relation to the dynamics and diversity of crises. Against this backdrop, the purpose of this essay is to highlight and explore some of the underlying themes connecting codes and codings and the production and apprehension of ‘crisis’. We analyse how the ever-increasing intermediation of contemporary life by codes of various kinds has been closely shadowed by a proliferation of crises. We discuss three related aspects of the coupling of code and crisis (signification, performativity and excess) running across these seemingly diverse topics. We and the other contributors in this special issue seek to go beyond the restricted (and often restricting) understanding of code as the language of machines. Rather, we view code qua programs and algorithms as epitomizing a much broader phenomenon. The codes that we live, and that we live by, also tell us about the ways in which the ‘will to power’ and the 'will to knowledge' tend to be enacted in the contemporary world.