The social construction of freedom in free and open source software: Hackers, ethics, and the liberal tradition

TitleThe social construction of freedom in free and open source software: Hackers, ethics, and the liberal tradition
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsColeman, E. G.
Secondary TitleAnthropology
VolumePhD
PublisherUniversity of Chicago
Place PublishedChicago, Illinois
Type of WorkPhD Dissertation
Keywordsculture, hacker
Abstract

This dissertation, based on fieldwork conducted between January 2001 and May 2003 on the Debian free software project and among hackers living in the Bay area, is an ethnography focused on the ethics and politics of free and open source hackers. My aim in this dissertation is to evaluate the rise of expressive rights among hackers as a historically and culturally specific practice of liberal freedom that can only be made sensible through the lens of a hacker technical way of life--in which their pragmatics and poetics are given serious consideration. Moving and integrating various levels of analysis: the phenomenology of technical praxis, the sociological creation of an ethical practice that unfolds in the hacker public sphere and the FOSS project, and the historical rise of reflective signification through overt political dissent, I offer a comprehensive account of how hackers have come to value and enact freedom, what they mean by it, and suggest some ideas about the broader political effects of their practices. Instead of an emphasis of self-determination and individuality based on the acquisition of property, hackers have placed emphasis on individuality as a form of critical self-determination that requires unrestricted access to knowledge in order to constantly develop technical skills and to progress the state of their technical art. Important for the purposes of this dissertation is that hackers challenge one sacred realm of liberal jurisprudence--intellectual property--by drawing on and reformulating ideals from another one--free speech.

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