Object-centred and object-oriented

At first sight David M. Berry’s The Philosophy Of Software{Berry 2011} would appear to offer an object-oriented account of software objects. After all,  Berry draws on Bruno Latour’’s ‘philosophy’⁠1 to argue for an account of power-full code actant-objects. “Code is striking in its ability to act as both an actor performing actions upon data, and as a vessel, holding data within its boundaries”{%Berry 2011@33}. These actants’ power is linked to relations. He says: “no code is ‘bigger’ or ‘more important’ than another, except to the extent that it has a larger number of connections”{Berry 2011@62}. His debt to Latour extends to his method for software studies. “we have to be alert to following the code’s genealogy to see how it is developed as an historical object and its influences on attitudes, movements and ideas”{%Berry 2011@33}.

Furthermore, he explores code in its material specificity, moving beyond a purely linguistic approach to embrace a phenomenological account of the ‘computational image’: “how one know one’s way around with respect to things in a computational image, and conversely, the computational way of making sense of the world and how it gives expression to that sensibility”{%Berry 2011@131-2}. Whether looking at Perl poetry, Obfuscated C Code contests or high frequency trading, the code-object is the focus even if the technosocial assemblage is the target.

But again, Berry’s objects are framed through the themes of relationality, processuality and potentiality that run through software studies. He says: “Code must then be understood in context, as something that is in someway potentially running for it to be code. Code is processual, and keeping in mind its execution and agentic form is crucial to understanding the way in which it is able to both structure the world and continue to act upon it”{%Berry 2011@38} (my emphasis).

When he argues that “the ontology of the computational is increasingly hegemonic in forming the background presupposition for our understanding the world”{%Berry 2011@128}, it is the code-object’s connections, forming a hegemonic bloc within hard/software assemblages that is the context. It is the relations they enact, empower and enable that form the “condition of possibility for a device-dependent, co-constructed subjectivity”{%Berry 2011@160}. The agency is in the running. Google and Facebook’s data mining algorithms are dynamic components in the infinite archive and its governmental praxis. They and their power full actant positions in the assemblage are actualised as they, and the databases they generate, become.

Berry’s philosophy is certainly object-centred but it is not object-oriented in the sense in which I am seeking to use Harman’s quadruple object. For Berry objects do not exceed their relations. They precisely depend on them. There is no reality or power to a code-object outside of its position within a particular relational conjuncture. Objects must be seen as dynamic and holding something back. It is only by framing them in these terms that Berry can explore that field of relationality as well as our  or any other actant’s phenomenological relation to it. Code must be seen as the potential process that fuels the governmental as well as artistic praxis he investigates.

As I will come on to argue, Harman’s object-oriented philosophy, by exploring the multidimensional nature of objects exceeding any relations and as fully realised and present and connecting within other objects to form new objects, allows us to remain focused on the protocol/code-object, addressing its specificity, even weirdness as a governmental actant as well as imaging technology.

1 The term is in quotes here to highlight Latour’s reluctance to be seen as developing such a framework{Latour 2011a}.

  • Berry, D.M., 2011, The Philosophy Of Software: Code And Mediation In The Digital Age, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York.
  • Latour, B., Harman, G. & Erdélyi, P., 2011, The Prince and the Wolf: Latour and Harman at the LSE, Zero Books, Ropley.