Open Call for The Techno-Galactic Software Observatory

From 7 until 12 June, the Techno-Galactic Software Observatory will explore practices of proximate critique with and of software. This worksession has been called an ’Observatory’ because we are interested in different ways to look at software, and at the implications of how it is currently probed and scrutinized as part of its production. Techno-galactic because we want to extend the observation to include different scales of computation, of software communities and their political economies.

With the rise of online services, software use has been increasingly knitted into production, while suggesting that these roles constitute separate realms. This has an effect on the way software is used and produced, and radically alters its operative role in society. The shifts ripple across galaxies, through social structures, working conditions and personal relations, resulting in a profusion of seamless apparatuses that optimize and monetize individual and collective flows of information. The diffusion of software services affects the personal, in the form of intensified identity shaping and self-management. It also affects the public, as more and more libraries, universities and public infrastructures rely on "solutions" provided by private companies.

Given how fast these changes resonate and reproduce, there is a growing urgency to engage in a critique of software that goes beyond taking a distance, and that deals with the fact that we are inevitably already entangled. How can we interact, intervene, respond and think with software? What approaches can allow us to recognize the agency of different actors, their ways of functioning and their politics? What methods of observation enable critical inquiry and affirmative discord?

Working with theories of software and computation developed in academia and elsewhere, our priority is to ground the Observatory in hands-on exercises and experiments that might have an effect on how software is done. At the Techno-Galactic Software Observatory we will explore methods developed in the context of software production, hacker culture, software studies, computer science research, Free Software communities, privacy activism, and artistic practice to experiment with ways to stay with the trouble of software.

During three sessions of two days, we will be collectively inspecting the space-time of computation and probing the universe of hardware-software separations. We will try out various perspectives and methods to look at the larger picture of software as a concept, as a practice, and as a set of paradigms.

Worksessions are intensive transdisciplinary moments, organised twice a year by Constant. We aim to provide conditions for participants with different experiences and capabilities to temporarily link their practice and to develop ideas, prototypes and research projects together. We primarily use Free, Libre and Open Source software and material that is available under Open Licenses.

This worksession calls for software-curious people of all kinds. Constant has invited 9 participants from different disciplines and backgrounds to prepare the subject. To ask questions about software from different types of engagement will require a heterogeneous group of participants with different levels of expertise, skill and background so we are looking for an additional 16 participants to join. You can apply for one or more blocks of minimum two days [see programme below], depending on your interest and availability.


The Techno-Galactic Software Observatory takes place from Wednesday June 7 until Monday June 12 in Brussels and Namur.

Participation is free and Constant provides lunch and hosting for all participants. If you would like to participate (or have questions), please send an e-mail to Martino, Seda and Femke at motivating your interest before 23 April. We will answer by May 1 latest.

The Techno-Galactic Software Observatory continues a series of encounters, research and situations such as:


Wednesday 7 + Thursday 8 June

The first two days of The Techno-Galactic Software Observatory will be developed in collaboration with the NAM-IP in Namur and will take place in the surrounding of their collection of historical ’numerical artefacts’. Viewing software in this long-term context offers the occasion to reflect on the conditions of its appearance, and allows us to take on current-day questions from a genealogical perspective. What is software? How did it appear as a concept, in what industrial and governmental circumstances? What happens to the material conditions of its production (minerals, factory labor, hardware) when it evaporates into a cloud?

Friday 9 + Saturday 10 June

The second two days will focus on the space-time dimension of IT development. The way computer programs and operating systems are manufactured changed tremendously through time, so its production times and places changed too. From military labs via the mega-corporation cubicles to the open-space freelancer utopia, what ruptures and continuities can be traced? From time-sharing to user-space partitions and containerization, what separations were and are at work? Where and when is software made today?

Sunday 11 + Monday 12 June

The last two days at the Techno-galactic software observatory will be dedicated to observation and its consequences. The development of software encompasses a series of practices whose evocative names are increasingly familiar: feedback, report, probe, audit, inspect, scan, diagnose, explore ... What are the systems of knowledge and power within which these activities take place, and what other types of observation are possible? As a practical set for our investigations, we will together set up a walk-in clinic in the basement of the World Trade Center, where users and developers can arrive on Monday with software-questions of all kinds.