Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In The Cultural Logic of Computation, David Golumbia, who worked as a software designer for more than ten years, argues that computers are cultural "all the way down" - that there is no part of the apparent technological transformation that is not shaped by historical and cultural processes, or that escapes existing cultural politics. The Cultural Logic of Computation provides a needed corrective to the uncritical enthusiasm for computers common today in many parts of our culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05388-5
    Subjects: Technology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. CHAPTER ONE The Cultural Functions of Computation
    (pp. 1-28)

    This book is not about computers. It is instead about a set of widespread contemporary beliefs about computers—beliefs that can be hard to see as such because of their ubiquity and because of the power of computers themselves. More specifically, it is about the methods computers use to operate, methods referred to generally ascomputation. Computation—as metaphor, method, and organizing frame—occupies a privileged and under-analyzed role in our culture. Influential new concepts often emerge alongside technological shifts—they emerged alongside the shifts to steam power, electricity, and television, for example (see, e.g., Marvin 1988). Like enthusiasts during...

  4. PART ONE Computationalism and Cognition
    • CHAPTER TWO Chomsky’s Computationalism
      (pp. 31-58)

      More than any other figure, Noam Chomsky defined the intellectual climate in the English-speaking world in the second half of the 20th century. References to Chomsky’s work dwarf those to the work of his closest competitors (“Chomsky Is Citation Champ,” 1992); not only did Chomsky redefine the entire academic discipline of linguistics, but his work has been something close to definitive in psychology, philosophy, cognitive science, and even computer science. While it is well known that Chomsky’s work has been influential in these fields, a stronger argument is possible: namely that Chomsky’s embrace and defense of a particularly powerful ideology...

    • CHAPTER THREE Genealogies of Philosophical Functionalism
      (pp. 59-80)

      One of the most striking developments in the cultural politics of mid-to-late twentieth-century intellectual practice in the West, and particularly in the U.S., was the rise and at least partial fall of a philosophical doctrine known asfunctionalism.A term with application in nearly every academic discourse, functionalism has a specific meaning within contemporary analytic philosophy: as proposed by Hilary Putnam and subsequently adopted by other writers, functionalism is a “model of the mind” according to which “psychological states (‘believing thatp,’ ‘desiring thatp,’ ‘considering whetherp,’ etc.) are simply ‘computational states’ of the brain. The proper way to...

  5. PART TWO Computationalism and Language
    • CHAPTER FOUR Computationalist Linguistics
      (pp. 83-103)

      The idea that the human brain might just be a computer, to be actualized via the Promethean project of building a computer that would replicate the operations of a human brain, entailed a real (if, in part,sub rosa) investigation of what exactly was meant by “the human brain” and more pointedly “the human mind” in the first place. Such questions have been the substance of philosophical inquiry in every culture, not least among these the Western philosophical tradition, and engagement with these analytic discourses could not likely have produced any kind of useful working consensus with which to move...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Linguistic Computationalism
      (pp. 104-126)

      Despite the manifest difficulties found everywhere in high computationalist attempts to make computers “speak,” thinkers outside of CL proper persist in believing that such a development is likely in the near future. Few prominent CL researchers describe their projects as failures, or spend much time explaining in their published works the significant limitations of fully algorithmic efforts to produce free-form speech, since it has become quite clear that such efforts are no longer considered worthwhile or even meaningful projects to pursue. This does not mean CL and NLP are unsuccessful: on the contrary, the complexity they help to uncover in...

  6. PART THREE Cultural Computationalism
    • CHAPTER SIX Computation, Globalization, and Cultural Striation
      (pp. 129-154)

      In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Marxist economists outlined a theory that was received with a certain amount of surprise, one that has been largely pushed aside today. The thesis was that despite the appearance of competition, most contemporary global economic power was held by a few, massive, concentrated centers—in short, monopolies. In critiques of Joseph Schumpeter (1942), orthodox pure “free market” capitalist economy, and also of more moderate, statist Keynesian economics, the writers Harry Braverman (1974) and Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy (Baran and Sweezy 1966; Sweezy 1972) suggested that capitalism exerts a continuous pressure, even in...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Computationalism, Striation, and Cultural Authority
      (pp. 155-178)

      Mass computerization is part of a complex world-historical politics in which reciprocal desires to see the world as computable and to see computer technology as an ultimate achievement of modernity walk hand-in-hand. It is no accident that globalization includes a massive migration of rural minorities toward cosmopolitan centers, and it is no accident that this migration is most typically accompanied by an explicit embrace of computer technology—which is said, it is critical to remember, to be a great supporter of distributed knowledge and productivity—and a loss of (and often concomitant disparaging of) minority languages and cultures. Such metropolitan...

  7. PART FOUR Computationalist Politics
    • CHAPTER EIGHT Computationalism and Political Individualism
      (pp. 181-196)

      As we have noted one of the most per sis tent refrains in computational discourse is that “computers empower users.” The obvious transparency of this fact typically short-circuits additional reflection; since in our society it is accepted as an unalloyed good to grow the power of individuals, it must follow that the computational empowerment of users is also a good thing. Looking more closely, it is clear that an individual is a complex and multifarious construction, and it is not immediately obvious which aspects of the individual are bolstered by engagement with the computer; if we resist the overall characterization...

    • CHAPTER NINE Computationalism and Political Authority
      (pp. 197-220)

      For many professionals today computers are a way of life. Within large universities, for example, both Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (which today is largely devoted to computer-related activities) are typically enormous schools, often dwarfing individual disciplines in the Arts and Sciences parts of the university. The value of this approach is said to be immediate employment after graduation, either in the computing industry or in one of many associated fields. Engagement with the computer dominates the entire educational experience for these students. Management practice today relies heavily on computer modeling of business systems; much of the software sold by...

  8. EPILOGUE: Computers without Computationalism
    (pp. 221-226)

    The main goal of this book has been to describe a set of ideological phenomena: the functions of the discourse of computationalism in contemporary social formations; the imbrication of that discourse in a politics that seems strikingly at odds with a discourse of liberation that has more and more come to characterize talk about computers; and the disconnect between the capabilities of physical computers and the ideology of computationalism that underwrites much of our own contemporary investment in being digital. Because human being as such is terrifically mutable—especially on an anti-essentialist, poststructuralist account like the one endorsed here—there...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 227-232)
  10. References
    (pp. 233-250)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 251-252)
  12. Index
    (pp. 253-257)