Software studies is an emerging interdisciplinary research field, which studies software systems and their social and cultural effects. The implementation and use of software has been studied in recent fields such as cyberculture, Internet studies, new media studies, and digital culture, yet prior to software studies, software was rarely ever addressed as a distinct object of study. To study software as an artifact, software studies draws upon methods and theory from the digital humanities and from computational perspectives on software. Methodologically, software studies usually differs from the approaches of computer science and software engineering, which concern themselves primarily with software in information theory and in practical application; however, these fields all share an emphasis on computer literacy, particularly in the areas of programming and source code. This emphasis on analysing software sources and processes (rather than interfaces) often distinguishes software studies from new media studies, which is usually restricted to discussions of interfaces and observable effects.
The conceptual origins of software studies include Marshall McLuhan's focus on the role of media in themselves, rather than the content of media platforms, in shaping culture. Early references to the study of software as a cultural practice appear in Friedrich Kittler's essay, "Es gibt keine Software", Lev Manovich's Language of New Media, and Matthew Fuller's Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software. Much of the impetus for the development of software studies has come from video game studies, particularly platform studies, the study of video games and other software artifacts in their hardware and software contexts. New media art, software art, motion graphics, and computer-aided design are also significant software-based cultural practices, as is the creation of new protocols and platforms.
In 2008, MIT Press launched a Software Studies book series with an edited volume of essays (Fuller's Software Studies: A Lexicon), and the first academic program was launched, (Lev Manovich, Benjamin H. Bratton, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin's "Software Studies Initiative" at U. California San Diego).[verification needed]
In 2011, a number of mainly British researchers established Computational Culture, an open-access peer-reviewed journal. The journal provides a platform for "inter-disciplinary enquiry into the nature of the culture of computational objects, practices, processes and structures."
Software studies is closely related to a number of other emerging fields in the digital humanities that explore functional components of technology from a social and cultural perspective. Software studies' focus is at the level of the entire program, specifically the relationship between interface and code. Notably related are critical code studies, which is more closely attuned to the code rather than the program, and platform studies, which investigates the relationships between hardware and software.
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- Manovich 2001, pp. xxxix, 354.
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- Manovich, Lev (2001). The Language of New Media. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-13374-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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- ——— (2011). The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9780230306479. ISBN 978-0-230-24418-4.
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- ——— (1999). Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Translated by Winthrop-Young, Geoffrey; Wutz, Michael. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-3232-1.
- Mackenzie, Adrian (2003). "The Problem of Computer Code: Leviathan or Common Power" (PDF). Lancaster, England: Lancaster University. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
- ——— (2006). Cutting Code: Software and Sociality. Internet Research Annual. Digital Formations. 30. Oxford: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-7823-4. ISSN 1526-3169.
- Manovich, Lev (2013). Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-62356-672-2. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
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- Wardrip-Fruin, Noah (2009). Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01343-7.
- Software studies bibliography at Monoskop.org