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The Performativity of Code : Software and Cultures of Circulation

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2005
JournalTheory, Culture and Society
Journal number1
Volume22
Number of pages22
Pages71-92
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article analyses a specific piece of computer code, the Linux operating system kernel, as an example of how technical operationality figures in contemporary culture. The analysis works at two levels. First of all, it attempts to account for the increasing visibility and significance of code or software-related events. Second, it seeks to extend familiar concepts of performativity to include cultural processes in which the creation of meaning is not central, and in which processes of circulation play a primary role. The analysis concentrates on the practices and patterns of circulation of Linux through versions, distributions, clones and reconfigurations. It argues that technical ‘culture-objects’ such as Linux take on a social existence within contemporary technological cultures because of the authorizing contexts in which the reading, writing and execution of code occur. The ‘force’ or performance of certain technical objects, their operationality, can be understood more as the stabilized nexus of diverse social practices, rules and personae than as a formal property of the objects themselves.