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Technology & Engineering History

Abstractions and Embodiments

New Histories of Computing and Society

edited by Janet Abbate & Stephanie Dick

Johns Hopkins University Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2022
History, History, Gender Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2022
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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 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

About the authors

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.

Janet Abbate's profile page

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

Stephanie Dick's profile page