Code Switch: Rethinking Computer Expertise as Empowerment
Abbate, Janet E.
MetadataShow full item record
Claims that technical mastery of computing and new media will provide a route to economic success for oppressed groups have become ubiquitous in American public discourse. From commercial enterprises like Codecademy, to grassroots nonprofits like Black Girls Code, to state mandates for computer science in public schools, learning to code has been positioned as a quick fix for structural disadvantage. But such claims fail to locate coding within larger discourses about race, gender, and capitalism that constrain its liberatory potential. This paper unpacks “code” as a keyword: a socially powerful term with multiple, contested, historically contingent uses. I will ask: How does the discourse around coding construct competence and authority—and does it tend to preserve or challenge technical expertise as a white male preserve? How is the current meaning of “code” derived in part from related keywords such as “STEM,” “diversity,” “innovation,” or “computational thinking”? What are the historical roots of the coding movement, and how do computer education projects of the 1960s reveal alternate possibilities for programming as an empowering practice? To what extent have women and minorities involved in coding efforts been able to define their own goals, priorities, and definitions of expertise and success?