What is the Social Studies of Computing?
The term refers to the use of theories and methods from the social sciences and humanities to understand computing/computer science as a human activity. Questions in this area include how CS is shaped by social forces, how the culture of CS affects the production of knowledge and technology, and how the boundaries of what is and is not CS are socially determined.
Common theories and methods for studying computing as a human activity include:
- History --- e.g. how was computing as a field formed?
- Philosophy --- e.g. how can we understand computing knowledge?
- Sociology --- e.g. who is and is not in computing?
- Anthropology --- e.g. what is the culture of computing?
- Education --- e.g. how does the way we teach computing affect the field?
- Gender studies --- e.g. why has computing become so masculinized?
The Social Studies of Computing is a subfield of Science and Technology Studies (STS), which uses theories and methods from the social sciences and humanities to understand science and technology as human activities.
Understanding computing as a human practice is important for understanding how to effectively teach computing, policy decisions about computing education and work, how to organize computing work, understanding why some groups in society play larger or smaller roles in the field, and the relationship between CS and other academic fields.
There are a few fields out there with similar names, which can be confusing to those new to the area:
- Computational social science uses theories and methods from computer science to contribute to the social sciences
- Social computing is about the intersecton of social behaviour and computational systems (e.g. social networks, email)
- Computers and society refers to the study of how computers affect society
What does Social Studies of Computing Research Look Like?
Some examples of work in the area include:
- Abbate, Janet. Recoding gender: Women's changing participation in computing. MIT Press, 2012.
- Ensmenger, Nathan L. The computer boys take over: Computers, programmers, and the politics of technical expertise. Mit Press, 2012.
- Margolis, Jane, and Allan Fisher. Unlocking the clubhouse: Women in computing. MIT press, 2003.
- Mellström, Ulf. "The intersection of gender, race and cultural boundaries, or why is computer science in Malaysia dominated by women?." Social Studies of Science 39, no. 6 (2009): 885-907.
- Tedre, Matti, and Erkki Sutinen. "Three traditions of computing: What educators should know." Computer Science Education 18, no. 3 (2008): 153-170.
- Barker, Lecia, Christopher Lynnly Hovey, and Jane Gruning. "What influences CS faculty to adopt teaching practices?." In Proceedings of the 46th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, pp. 604-609. ACM, 2015.