Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

The Life-Worlds of Corporate Software Developers

Dr. Paula Bialski


My research project attempts to uncover the creative decisions as well as the power struggles of those who build our digital infrastructure.

Computer programming or coding involves subjective decisions – from when and how data is categorised, to how an interface is designed. This ethnographic research project tries to understand the life-worlds of programmers, arguing that programmers are an emerging social class who – with the knowledge to design, manoeuvre, and hack computer systems – hold the key to the back-doors of society. Moreover, they make decisions that shape the way in which society functions, in turn helping shape our social futures.

Since the invention of the personal computer in the 1970s, computers have become increasingly part of our daily practices, yet the majority of computer users still lack a basic understanding of who is shaping their reality and how they are doing so. Moreover, programmers themselves constantly have to re-negotiate and re-define their professions due to a rapid advancement of computing power and the shifting demands of the tech industry.

Based on an ethnographic study of programmer’s cultures in Silicon Valley and a 2-month organizational ethnography at a large corporate technology company in Berlin, this s research project aims to tell a story about the life-worlds of programmers today – how they innovate, the relationship to the machine, how they negotiate power.