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Abstractions and Embodiments

New Histories of Computing and Society

edited by Janet Abbate and Stephanie Dick

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Cutting-edge historians explore ideas, communities, and technologies around modern computing to explore how computers mediate social relations.

Computers have been framed both as a mirror for the human mind and as an irreducible other that humanness is defined against, depending on different historical definitions of "humanness." They can serve both liberation and control because some people's freedom has historically been predicated on controlling others. Historians of computing return again and again to these contradictions, as they often reveal deeper structures.

Using twin frameworks of…

Cutting-edge historians explore ideas, communities, and technologies around modern computing to explore how computers mediate social relations.

Computers have been framed both as a mirror for the human mind and as an irreducible other that humanness is defined against, depending on different historical definitions of "humanness." They can serve both liberation and control because some people's freedom has historically been predicated on controlling others. Historians of computing return again and again to these contradictions, as they often reveal deeper structures.

Using twin frameworks of abstraction and embodiment, a reformulation of the old mind-body dichotomy, this anthology examines how social relations are enacted in and through computing. The authors examining "Abstraction" revisit central concepts in computing, including "algorithm," "program," "clone," and "risk." In doing so, they demonstrate how the meanings of these terms reflect power relations and social identities. The section on "Embodiments" focuses on sensory aspects of using computers as well as the ways in which gender, race, and other identities have shaped the opportunities and embodied experiences of computer workers and users. Offering a rich and diverse set of studies in new areas, the book explores such disparate themes as disability, the influence of the punk movement, working mothers as technical innovators, and gaming behind the Iron Curtain.

Abstractions and Embodiments reimagines computing history by questioning canonical interpretations, foregrounding new actors and contexts, and highlighting neglected aspects of computing as an embodied experience. It makes the profound case that both technology and the body are culturally shaped and that there can be no clear distinction between social, intellectual, and technical aspects of computing.

Contributors: Janet Abbate, Marc Aidinoff, Troy Kaighin Astarte, Ekaterina Babinsteva, André Brock, Maarten Bullynck, Jiahui Chan, Gerardo Con Diaz, Liesbeth De Mol, Stephanie Dick, Kelcey Gibbons, Elyse Graham, Michael J. Halvorson, Mar Hicks, Scott Kushner, Xiaochang Li, Zachary Loeb, Lisa Nakamura, Tiffany Nichols, Laine Nooney, Elizabeth Petrick, Cierra Robson, Hallam Stevens, Jaroslav Švelch

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Abstractions and Embodiments

edited by Janet Abbate and Stephanie Dick

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Reviews

I strongly recommend this excellent, engaging book. The abstractions and embodiments framing, the range of captivating and important themes, the geographical coverage and diversity, and the deep insights of the editors and chapter authors all make this richly thoughtful and highly compelling scholarship. It will be a very influential book for many years to come.

Every so often, an edited collection announces a paradigm shift. This is one of those books. As it shows, the history of computing has become much more than the study of digital devices. It has become the study of a deep and ongoing transformation in the architecture of our social lives.

Drawing together an extraordinary group of scholars, this volume contains individual chapters that challenge us to rethink what we thought we knew about specific currents in the history of computing and society. As a whole, the text inspires a vital reimagining of the relationship between abstraction and embodiment, which is sure to make it required reading for years to come.

I keep returning to one of the book's central questions: in computer history, who has a mind and who has a body? By bringing together themes of abstraction and embodiment, this evocative book helps us see computer history, and its study, in exciting new ways.

This insightful collection offers new ways to understand computing by challenging the core oppositions that dominate our stories about them: abstractions vs. embodiments, machines vs. humans, software vs. hardware. Bringing together essays by established scholars and young researchers who are changing the field of the history of computing, this collection shows how each side shapes and reshapes the other.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
472
ISBN
9781421444376
Illustration Description
22 b&w photos, 8 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction. Thinking with Computers
Part I. Abstractions
Chapter 1. Waiting for Midnight: Risk Perception and the Millennium Bug
Chapter 2. Centrists against the Center: The Jeffersonian

Acknowledgments
Introduction. Thinking with Computers
Part I. Abstractions
Chapter 1. Waiting for Midnight: Risk Perception and the Millennium Bug
Chapter 2. Centrists against the Center: The Jeffersonian Politics of a Decentralized Internet
Chapter 3. Beyond the Pale: The Blackbird Web Browser's Critical Reception
Chapter 4. Scientology Online: Copyright Infringement and the Legal Construction of the Internet
Chapter 5. Patenting Automation of Race and Ethnicity Classifications: Protecting Neutral Technology or Disparate Treatment by Proxy?
Chapter 6. "Difficult Things Are Difficult to Describe": The Role of Formal Semantics in European Computer Science, 1960–1980
Chapter 7. What's in a Name? Origins, Transpositions, and Transformations of the Triptych Algorithm–Code–Program
Chapter 8. The Lurking Problem
Chapter 9. The Help Desk: Changing Images of Product Support in Personal Computing, 1975–1990
Chapter 10. Power to the Clones: Hardware and Software Bricolage on the Periphery
Part II: Embodiments
Chapter 11. Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture
Chapter 12. Inventing the Black Computer Professional
Chapter 13. The Baby and the Black Box: A History of Software, Sexism, and the Sound Barrier
Chapter 14. Computing Nanyang: Information Technology in a Developing Singapore, 1965–1985
Chapter 15. Engineering the Lay Mind: Lev Landa's Algo-Heuristic Theory and Artificial Intelligence
Chapter 16. The Measure of Meaning: Automatic Speech Recognition and the Human-Computer Imagination
Chapter 17. Broken Mirrors: Surveillance in Oakland as Both Reflection and Refraction of California's Carceral State
Chapter 18. Punk Culture and the Rise of the Hacker Ethic
Chapter 19. The Computer as Prosthesis? Embodiment, Augmentation, and Disability
Chapter 20. "Have Any Remedies for Tired Eyes?": Computer Pain as Computer History
Afterword. Beyond Abstractions and Embodiments
Contributors
Index

Author Bios
Janet Abbate
Featured Contributor

Janet Abbate

Janet Abbate (FALLS CHURCH, VA) is a professor of science, technology, and society at Virginia Tech. She is the author of Inventing the Internet and Recoding Gender: Women's Changing Participation in Computing.
Featured Contributor

Stephanie Dick

Stephanie Dick (VANCOUVER, BC) is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University.