Software of the Oppressed: Reprogramming the Invisible Discipline

PDF is freely-accessible at CUNY Academic Works. 

My dissertation offers a critical analysis of software practices within the university and the ways they contribute to a broader status quo of software use, development, and imagination. Through analyzing the history of software practices used in the production and circulation of student and scholarly writing, I argue that this overarching software status quo has oppressive qualities in that it supports the production of passive users, or users who are unable to collectively understand and transform software code for their own interests. I also argue that the university inadvertently normalizes and strengthens the software status quo through what I call its “invisible discipline,” or the conditioning of its community—particularly students, but also faculty, librarians, staff, and other university members—to have little expectation of being able to participate in the governance or development of the software used in their academic settings. This invisible discipline not only fails to prepare students for the political struggles and practical needs of our digital age (while increasing the social divide between those who program digital technology and those who must passively accept it), but reinforces a lack of awareness of how digital technology powerfully mediates the production, circulation, and reception of knowledge at individual and collective levels. Through this analysis, I hope to show what a liberatory approach to academic technology practices might look like, as well as demonstrate—through a variety of alternative software practices in and beyond the university—the intellectual, political, and social contributions these practices might contribute to higher education and scholarly knowledge production at large. I conclude the dissertation with suggestions for “reprogramming” iv our academic technology practices, an approach that I also explored in practice in the production of this dissertation. As I describe in the Afterword, the genesis of this dissertation, as well as the production, revision, and dissemination of its drafts, were generated as part of two digital projects, Social Paper and #SocialDiss, each of which attempted in their own small way to resist the invisible discipline and the ways that conventional academic technology practices structure intellectual work. The goal of this dissertation and its related digital projects is thus to help shine light on the exciting intellectual and political potential of democratizing software development and governance in and through educational institutions.