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Code Societies Summer 2018

Code Societies Logo

  • 3 Week Session, Monday July 1st - Saturday July 21st
  • @ SFPC, 155 Bank street, West Village, NYC
  • 6:30pm - 9:30pm, Monday to Friday


Code Societies will examine the ideological and mythological attributes of computation, concentrating on the poetics and politics of culturally embedded software. How do different platforms and processes — including algorithms, data collection, social media, networks, simulation, and ritual — yield distinct modes of seeing, thinking, and feeling, structure social organization, and reinforce existing systems of power? Through a balanced study of critical theory and hands-on making workshops, students will create several small projects that explore and question these ideas. Students will be introduced to Python and discover poetic, playful, and powerful ways to use computation. All levels of programming ability welcome and an enthusiastic willingness to reconsider how code shapes and is shaped by society required!

Code Societies Summer 2018 session is organized by Melanie Hoff and the teaching assistant is Ying Quan Tan.


  • Allison Parrish
  • American Artist
  • danah boyd
  • Dan Taeyoung
  • Lauren McCarthy
  • Melanie Hoff
  • Sarah Aoun
  • Shannon Mattern
  • Taeyoon Choi


Smarter Home

Lauren McCarthy

We will explore home as a place, as an identity, as a practice, and as a series of rituals. What makes someone feel "at home" in a space or in a community (both in person and online)? We will investigate the meaning of home as private space. What happens when networked technologies are brought into this? What roles do surveillance, data collection, automation, and telepresence play? But what is our ideal home of the future? As a class, we will build a smart home on our terms, with each person contributing a device, gesture, piece of furniture, ritual, etc of their design to create an installation throughout sfpc's space.

Hacking the Attention Economy, Amplifying Discord and Hate

danah boyd

Authoring text under control: from automatic writing to autocomplete

Allison Parrish

"Automatic writing" refers to a process in which an author produces writing effortlessly, without apparent conscious awareness. Psychologists study automatic writing to better understand how mind affects muscle; creative writers use it to circumvent writer's block; surrealists practice it to recover a repressed primal consciousness; spiritualists use it to communicate with the dead. This series of workshops attempts to make explicit the technical and conceptual connections between these varied practices and computer-generated text, considering technologies like spell check, autocomplete, and search suggestions to themselves qualify as ""automatic writing."" Using the Python programming language, students will learn a series of techniques for producing text ""automatically"" with computer programs and design interfaces for ""writing"" with these programs. We'll discuss the nature of text and authorship in a future where technology increasingly mediates the act of writing itself.

Sessions will combine brief lectures with seminar-format discussions alongside tech tutorials. We'll also set aside some time for workshopping of student work as needed.

Diversity & Inclusion in Surveillance AI

Sarah Aoun

Facial recognition and diversity have not gone together seamlessly. On the one hand, despite the popular rise of facial recognition technology over the past several years, we have witnessed the exclusion of people of color from the design and implementation process. Facial recognition tools are often discriminatory, and time after time, softwares either fail to recognize people of color or mislabel them. On the other hand, facial recognition technology is also one that is increasingly integrated into police and state surveillance tools. Addressing these tensions, this class will explore tools of surveillance and whom they target, the social and political implications of AI development, and the unintended effects that diversity and inclusion might have.

Software as Ideology

American Artist

Expanding on Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s theory of software as an analogy for ideology, we will look in depth at Alexander Galloway’s take on the idea, which contrasts a historical overview of ideology with a contemporary description of software, to reveal where these two interfacing methods of society overlap. We will discuss how software became distinct from hardware, the presumption of programmers as different from users, and how obfuscation is an essential tool of software development as well as ideology.

Social Network Paintings

Melanie Hoff & Dan Taeyoung

What is the self-portrait of a society?

On social media, you are an individual who forms relationships with other individuals. You follow, link, like, subscribe. A model of a social network understands society as a series of interconnected networks, graphs, spider webs. Individuals are circular nodes, relationships are lines or edges, and networks are portrayed as linkages between nodes. With a social network, the data is the message: both a visual representation, and a database structure. Embedded in this node-and-edge paradigm is an underlying presumption that humans are individuals first, and that society, groups, and cultures then arise as result of individual groupings: That society is, supposedly, what emerges when you connect a group of individuals.

But is this really the case? We pay attention to what our closest friends pay attention to. We adopt the habits of our loved ones. We are affected by people, forces, and ecologies we’ve never known. We are beings formed by our societies, our systems, our cultures.

Social Network Paintings is an exploration of the most common representations of social networks and the ways the database as form has influenced these representations. We will get our hands dirty with paint and software to make and remake social networks and societies. What are the conceptual assumptions and gaps in the network-form? How can these forms be misused, reappropriated, and decontextualized to represent other modes of experience? How can painting, poetry, and performance be a models for representing our societies?

Sorting Things Out: Classifications, Ontologies, Data Models, Knowledge Graphs

Shannon Mattern

We sort things into piles, put things onto shelves, build folders on desktops, and check boxes on forms that identify (or approximate) our gender, race, and, citizenship. Such sorting not only helps to reduce clutter; it also, often, determines what counts, imposes an implied valuation, and informs access to opportunity. In these two sessions of “Code Societies,” we’ll examine how the construction of classification systems, ontologies, data models, and knowledge graphs serves to translate between worldviews, way of knowing, ideologies, and modes of governance. In some cases, we might say that these organizational systems, encoded in computational form, code particular societies into being. How might we develop aspirational ontologies that help us to imagine more just, inclusive, peaceful societies?

Distributed Web of Care

Taeyoon Choi

Distributed Web of Care is an initiative to code to care and code carefully. In this class, we will investigate centralized, decentralized, distributed and peer to peer networks. We will analyze the popular platforms such as Instagram and technical platforms such as GitHub, focusing on the network structure and protocols. We will experiment with strings and stickers to visualize and embody different types of network. We will imagine the kinds of network we want for the future and we will discuss how we can build it with code and code of conduct. We will distribute our work (poetry, code, or something else) over distributed network using Beaker browser.