Performativity in Software Design

A socio-political approach to practices in software development

This Elise-Richter project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF develops a socio-political approach to software development. Aiming at the value-based development of information systems, it deals with processes and methods of software design that open spaces for socio-political reflection.

Established ways of doing


When making design decisions, software developers rely on technical methods and on everyday discourses. Shared social ideas and values are inscribed into information systems. Vice versa, the design and use of technology shape society. As a result, information technologies do not only express but also reproduce social, cultural and normative relations.

Take for example the internet and the technical infrastructure that organizes Web content: The information available on the Web is structured by search technologies. Linked data and semantic technologies relate various data to one another and, in this way, render some aspects visible and others invisible. This kind of linking and obscuring also defines knowledge areas in that it brings particular viewpoints to the fore while others disappear in the background.

In turn, the data models that such technologies are based on, relate the (societal, political, economic or scientific) implications of the mentioned knowledge areas to one another. In this way, they establish seemingly neutral realities.

Even though data models rely on methods and tools of software development, they are the result of normative design decisions and thus blend in with hegemonies in society. The crucial point here is: Implicit assumptions on generated knowledge areas or future use contexts gain momentum if they are not being reflected. They mostly act in accordance with power structures in society, which, for example, are indicated by gender and class relations.

Starting points of the project


Approaches of critical technical practice describe the collaborative design of information systems as socio-technical practices. In implementation, abstract technical concepts and models are brought to life by adding social meaning to them. Unknowingly, ideologies and hegemonic viewpoints become active and get reproduced in the same way.

The Elise-Richter project develops a socio-political approach to software development. Aiming at the value-based development of information systems, it deals with processes and methods of software design that open spaces for socio-political reflection.

“Deconstructive Design”, the design approach that has been conceptualized for this endeavour‚ will be applied, elaborated and evaluated in cooperation with development teams. The approach allows a team to critically reflect on the political relevance of their own work practices and to create space for thinking and acting in a way that exceeds solely technical perspectives and triggers creative socio-technical solutions.

Theoretical approach


The project relates research on the co-emergence of society and technology to approaches of critical technical practice and power-critical concepts from political science. Theoretically it ties in with Judith Butler’s and Karen Barad’s concept of ‘material-discursive performativity’. This concept explains how power relations reproduce in everyday practices through the entanglement of performative discourses and material (e.g. technical) phenomena. The project practically applies discourse theory and recent materialist approaches in developing information systems.

The project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project number V273-G15.

Publications

Publications

  • Allhutter Doris,, & Berendt Bettina,. (2020). Deconstructing FAT: using memories to collectively explore implicit assumptions, values and context in practices of debiasing and discrimination-awareness. Proceedings of ACM Conference on Fairness, Transparency, and Accountability. doi:10.1145/3351095.3375688
  • Allhutter, D. (2019). Of 'Working Ontologists' and 'High-quality Human Components'. The Politics of Semantic Infrastructures. In D. Ribes & Vertesi, J. (Eds.), DigitalSTS: A Field Guide for Science & Technology Studies (pp. 326-348). Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctvc77mp9.25
  • Allhutter, D. (2019). Dem algorithmischen Bias auf der Spur. Technikfolgenabschätzung – Theorie Und Praxis, 81. Retrieved from https://www.tatup.de/index.php/tatup/issue/view/8/ISSN%202199-9201%2028-1
  • Allhutter, D. (2016). Pornografie. In J. Heesen (Ed.) (pp. 170-177). Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler.
  • Allhutter, D. (2014). Vergeschlechtlichte Anwender_innen-Erlebnisse und User Experience als soziomaterielles Konzept. In T. -D. -C. Hochschule Heilbronn Kompetenzzentrum, Marsden, M., & Kempf, U. (Eds.), Gender-UseIT – HCI, Web-Usability und UX unter Gendergesichtspunkten (pp. 15-25). Oldenbourg: De Gruyter. Retrieved from http://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/428213
  • Allhutter, D., & Hofmann, R. (2014). Affektive Materialitäten in Geschlechter-Technikverhältnissen. Handlungs- und theorie-politische Implikationen einer antikategorialen Geschlechteranalyse. Freiburger Zeitschrift Für Geschlechterstudien, 20, 59-78. Retrieved from http://www.budrich-journals.de/index.php/fgs/article/view/17135
  • Allhutter, D., Brauner, C., Cacioppo, B., & Garnter, H. (Eds.). (2014). Streuungsmuster. Ausgewählte Texte aus dem Lise Meitner Literaturpreis. Streuungsmuster. Ausgewählte Texte aus dem Lise Meitner Literaturpreis (p. 216). Wien: Promedia.
  • Allhutter, D. (2014). User Experience: Was uns Geschlechter-Technikverhältnisse zeigen. Fiff – Kommunikation Forum Informatikerinnen Für Frieden Und Gesellschaftliche Verantwortung, 31, 47-50.
  • Allhutter, D. (2013). Materiell-diskursive Praktiken und Affekt in der Entwicklung von Informationssystemen – Forschungsbericht für das UC Berkeley Program. Wien.
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Conference Papers/Speeches

Conference Papers/Speeches

  • 04/11/2019 , Dagstuhl
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Deconstructing Values in Computing
    Dagstuhl Seminar ‘Values in Computing’, Leibniz Center for Informatics
  • 27/07/2018 , Dresden
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Keynote: Bias in Training Data of Cyber-Physical Systems
    International Workshop ’Diversifying Epistemic Perspectives: Gender and Diversity for Participation in Science & Engineering‘
  • 13/10/2016 , Bergen
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Information Infrastructures and Governmentality
    8th Annual S.NET Meeting: The Co-Production of Emerging Bodies, Politics and Technologies
  • 28/01/2016 , Wien
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Governing Promises. Microwork, Crowd-Intelligence, and Affective Economies
    Symposium 'State, Work and Affect'
  • 04/12/2015 , Wien
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Algorithmic agencies and human labor in emerging information infrastructures
    Living in Technoscientific Worlds. International Conference Celebrating the Launch of STS Austria
  • 14/11/2015 , Denver
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Difference and inequality in/as infrastructures
    4S 40th Annual Meeting
  • 03/10/2015 , Maribor
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Commentary to the round table discussion ‘Materiality-Critique-Transformation’
    Sister-Sixth New Materialisms conference: New Materialist Politics and Economies of Knowledge
  • 30/01/2015 , Linz
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Digitale Pornografie: visuelle Politiken und affektive Materialitäten
    QujOchÖ – collective at the interfaces of art, politics, society and science: Lecture and Talk I
  • 15/11/2014 , New York
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Crowd microtasking for the semantic revolution: of 'working ontologists' and 'high-quality human components'
    Digital Labor Conference 2014: The New School
  • 26/09/2014 , Barcelona
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Ideology, hegemony and material-discursive performativity – some thoughts on theory-political implications of new materialism
    International Conference on New Materialist Methodologies
  • 05/05/2014 , Graz
    Doris Allhutter: 
    How concepts of ideology, hegemony and sociomateriality frame the micro-politics of ICT design
    STS Conference 2014 'Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies', Panel 'The Politics of ICTs'
  • 04/04/2014 , Berlin
    Doris Allhutter: 
    User Experience (UX) im Blick geschlechtertheoretischer Zugänge
    Fachtagung ’Gender-UseIT 2014. HCI, Web-Usability und UX unter Gendergesichtspunkten'
  • 07/12/2013 , Wien
    Doris Allhutter: 
    Materiell-diskursive Phänomene analysieren
    ÖGGF-Tagung
  • 03/12/2013 , Wien
    Doris Allhutter: 
    'Materiality at Work': Materielle Praktiken, Affekt und Erinnerung
    Ringvorlesung 'Natur/Kulturverhältnisse als Herausforderung für queer-feministische Theorieansätze I'
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