Accepted Paper:

Passionate programming: implications of neoliberal affect in computer science  


Samantha Breslin (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the significance of having and demonstrating "passion" in an undergraduate computer science program in Singapore, exploring how students and others are called upon to continually (re)make themselves as passionate (and thereby employable and competitive) persons.

Paper long abstract:

Experiences of learning and doing computer science are permeated by forms of affect, such as the common joys and frustrations involved in making code work, or the intimate devotion some show for solving computing problems. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in an undergraduate computer science program in Singapore, this paper explores discussions and performances among students, professors, and computing professionals of the significance of "passion" in computer science. For many of my participants, having and demonstrating passion were seen as necessary to being/becoming a "good" computer scientist. Entrepreneurship was additionally encouraged and cultivated through academic programs and government policies that "summoned" students to become passionate technical citizens and subjects. This paper explores several implications of this primacy of passion. I consider how, while many I spoke with agreed on the importance of passion for doing "good" computer science, few could clearly explain what precisely it means. As such, those in positions of power, especially employers, can arbitrarily determine what displays of passion are valued, and by who. Additionally, as both a moving target and a performative project, passion is never fully be achieved. Like the entrepreneurs in Carla Freeman's research in Barbados, many students and others continually worked to (re)make themselves as passionate persons, and thereby as persons dedicated to neoliberal entrepreneurialism and competition. This intersection of passion with neoliberalism easily sets the grounds for over-work and exploitation as students and employees dedicate their time and selves in the name of creativity, innovation, and passionate work.

Panel RM-SPK09
Everyday neoliberalism