Softwarization: A Tentative Genealogy

I was interested in seeing how the term "softwarization" had been used previously, especially considering I use it in my own work, and was rather surprised to find usage dating back to 1969 (Modern Data 1969). So far this is the earliest usage I have been able to uncover but it is interesting to note how similar the usage of the concept has been by listing a few quotations from the extant literature. By no means meant to be exhaustive it does demonstrate that the notion of "softwarization" has been around almost as long as the concept of software itself.

  • Much more modest in scope, my book present episodes from the history of "softwarization"... of culture between 1960 and 2010, with a particular attention to media software – from the original ideas which led to its development to its current ubiquity (Manovich 2013: 5). 
  • Nonetheless, there is also held to be a radical, if not revolutionary kernel within the softwarization project. It is a potential that is understood as relating to the relative affordance code/software appears to provide for autonomous individuals within networks of association to share information and communicate, often theorised as a form of network politics (Berry 2012). 
  • In my view, this ability to combine previously separate media techniques represents a fundamentally new stage in the history of human media, human semiosis, and human communication, enabled by its “softwarization” (Manovich 2008: 29). 
  • Sure, it would be a very good idea, and if you watch and see what happens in the 21st century you’ll see more and more manufacturers deciding to do precisely that, because of the value of empowered user innovation, which will drive down their costs of making new and better products all the time. Indeed for reasons which are as obvious to manufacturers as they are to us, the softwarization of hardware in the 21st century is good for everybody (Moglen 2004).
  • The history of modern production is intimately tied to the automation of business processes. First, companies used steam engines, then conveyor belts, and today we use information systems, and especially software, to automate business activities. We might call it "softwarization" (Schlueter Langdon 2003). 
  • The lightning-fast development of new software is producing technologies and applications ''that we couldn't even envision 10 years ago,'' [W. Brian] Arthur contended, ''redefining whole industries'' and creating new ones. Virtually every industry will be affected, he says. Just as the industrial revolution uprooted many blue-collar jobs, today's ''softwarization'' will displace many white-collar workers (Arthur, quoted in Pine 1997)
  • We suggest an expression "softwarization" to describe a general trend, in which "software" such as knowledge and services is given a relatively higher appraisal than "hardware" such as goods and resources (Shingikai 1983: 74). 
  • However, because of the increasing "softwarization" of the industry, this is no longer sufficient. "The time is not far," Mr. Jequier said, "when computer usage will become part of the normal school and university curriculum" (Modern Data 1969: 32)


Berry, D. M. (2012) Life in Code and Software/Introduction, Life in Code and Software, accessed 26/08/2013,

Manovich, L. (2008) Software Takes Command, draft, accessed 26/08/2013,

Manovich, L. (2013) Software Takes Command, London: Bloomsbury.

Modern Data (1969) International News, Modern Data, Volume 2, Issue 8.

Moglen, E. (2004) Eben Moglen's Harvard Speech - The Transcript, Groklaw, accessed 26/08/2013,

Pine, A. (1997) America's Economic Future? Happy Days Could Be Here Again, accessed 26/08/2013, Los Angeles Times,

Schlueter Langdon, C. 2003. Does IT Matter? An HBR Debate--Letter from Chris Schlueter Langdon. Harvard Business Review (June): 16, accessed 26/08/2013, and

Shingikai, K. (1983) Japan in the Year 2000: Preparing Japan for an Age of Internationalization, the Aging Society and Maturity, Japan: Japan Times, Limited.


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