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Apps and Infrastructures

C. Gerlitz, A. Helmond, D. B. Nieborg, F. N. van der Vlist (editors)

A special issue of Computational Culture, a Journal of Software Studies


Outline

Apps have become an important new cultural, technical, and economic software form. Most of today's apps are designed to run on smartphones and other mobile devices and provide functions previously possible with other software forms (Morris and Elkins, 2015). However, they represent new ways in which software artefacts are developed, tested, packaged, promoted, distributed, monitored, monetised, downloaded, integrated, updated, stored, accessed, archived, interpreted, and used. To foreground the relational and material dimensions of apps, research should not only account for them as discrete media objects, but needs to approach apps as part of their multiple infrastructures and environments including app stores, development platforms, advertising technologies, analytics tools, and cloud services, among others.

App stores set the conditions for users and developers to distribute, browse, promote, monetise, rate, and download apps developed for Apple's iOS, Google's Android, or other mobile operating systems. Developers draw on a variety of both official and third-party developer tools, including developer pages and reference documentation, application programming interfaces (APIs), software development kits (SDKs), integrated development environments (IDEs), and dedicated programming languages. Such resources are commonly employed in order to build, test, and monitor apps whilst appropriating the features and constraints of particular platforms and devices, thereby participating in the re-interpretation and re-evaluation of platform features and data. Furthermore, apps may also utilise a device's built-in sensors for continuous data collection of movements, practices, and environments whilst being wirelessly connected to the cloud or other infrastructures,without the user necessarily knowing exactly when, how, or where (Mackenzie, 2010).

Approaching apps from an infrastructural perspective allows attending to the various socio-technical actors, layers, and inscriptions that inform app development, distribution, and usage in situated, distributed, and often dissimilar ways. Within such stacked intermediary infrastructures, platform logics of negotiation among heterogeneous stakeholders are multiplied and nested. This raises questions about the material and technological boundaries of apps and the subsequent need for methodologies to study apps' socio-technical assemblages on multiple scales, attending to inbound and outbound data flows, governance and power, valuation, their political economy, and material semiotics. Previous research on apps – initially emerging at the intersection of mobile studies and media studies – considered mobile apps as a form of mobile or location-based media transforming and generating new forms of communication and sociality, places, and publics through the affordances and practices associated with mobile artefacts (Goggin and Hjorth, 2014). While these studies raised general questions about the boundaries of apps, attention was primarily directed to apps as compartmentalised software applications and their relations with affect, bodies, and locales (Farman 2012; Matviyenko et al., 2015; Morris and Elkins, 2015). A second strand of app research has moved beyond such a single app focus and directed primary attention to the materialities and infrastructures of apps by engaging with their data cultures, material connections, political economic underpinnings, and ecologies (Albury et al., 2017; Farman, 2015; Goldsmith in Goggin and Hjorth, 2014; Horst, 2013; Nieborg, 2017; Wilken, 2015).

This special issue of Computational Culture welcomes proposals and projects from scholars and practitioners from across different disciplines interested in the advancement of app studies at the intersection of apps and infrastructures. Studies of mobile apps, platform native apps, and web browser apps or extensions are particularly encouraged. We specifically seek articles that bring together conceptual work with a technically and empirically grounded perspective, addressing the methodological challenges associated with the critical study of apps and their intricate relations to other software, platforms, and infrastructures. Contributors are encouraged to move beyond studies of single apps and their users in favor of approaches that explore apps as material artefacts alongside the infrastructures, political economy, and environments in which they are embedded and situationally enacted. We thus encourage interdisciplinary contributions that traverse boundaries between the fields of software studies, platform studies, cultural and media studies, science and technology studies, as well as political economy and data critique.

Topics and projects might include:


Schedule

750 word abstracts should be emailed to apps.infrastructures@gmail.com by April 1, 2018.

Any queries can be addressed to the editors at apps.infrastructures@gmail.com.

Abstracts will be reviewed by the Computational Culture Editorial Board and the special issue editors. Authors of selected abstracts will be notified by May 1, 2018 and invited to submit full manuscripts by September 15, 2018. These manuscripts are subject to full blind peer review according to Computational Culture's policies. The issue will be published in March 2019.

Computational Culture is an online open-access peer-reviewed journal of interdisciplinary enquiry into the nature of cultural computational objects, practices, processes and structures. http://computationalculture.net/


References


Kind Journal Special Issue; Call
Editor C. Gerlitz; A. Helmond; D. B. Nieborg; F. N. van der Vlist
Publication Date 2019, February 6
Journal Computational Culture – A Journal of Software Studies
Publisher Computational Culture (London, United Kingdom)
Identifier 2047-2390 [part of]