In the 2010s, claims that learning to program would bring economic success for disadvantaged groups became ubiquitous in American public discourse. Although the coding movement presented itself as radically new, it recapitulated earlier framings of computing skill as a mechanism for empowerment. Using examples from the early history of computing and the twenty-first-century coding movement, I show how programming skill has been variously constructed as a shift of power from management to labor, a means of economic uplift for minorities, or a thinking tool for children. I argue that coding initiatives have always been embedded in politics and that the specific types of power associated with computer skill have been tied to the social identities of coding proponents and their intended beneficiaries. I contrast coding efforts controlled by dominant industry and research groups with grassroots efforts by women and minorities that reveal oppositional logics for empowerment based on radical questioning of both the nature and the ultimate purpose of coding.


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pp. S134-S159
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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