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Kelty (2008) Two Bits, Chapter 3

July 24, 2009

Kelty, C. 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.


Chapter 3. The Movement

97 This second part each chapter history of one of 5 practices that make up Free Software: ‘creating a movement, sharing source code, conceptualizing openness or open systems, writing copyright (and copyleft) licenses, and coordinating collaborations’.

98 All five practices part of a ‘collective technical experimental system’ that crystallised in 1998-9.

98 Movement = when geeks argue and discusss about Free Software. They may disagree but all recognise that they are ‘doing the same thing’. So ‘the practice of creating a movement is the practice of talking about the meaning and necessity of the other four practices’.

[Is the movement a meta-practice? (see Peterson, reading practices, this blog) Is it an anchoring practice? (see Couldry 2004, Media as practice)].

99- Forking Free Software, 1997-2000

99 FS forked in 1998 when Open Source term emerged – each term led to separate narrative. Open Source linked to dotcom dreams of disintermediation and cost-cutting, had profit-making dimension. By contrast, Free Software was about legal resistance to ‘intellectual-property expansionism’.

101- Netscape decides to release its source code for reasons to do with the five core practices of FS, as well as galvanising the new FS movement:

1. Sharing source code: although trouble persuading people that this made business sense

2. Conceptualising open systems

3. Writing licenses: 104 but when wrote own Netscape license this spliced the recursive public into half

4. Coordinating collaborations:

105 much harder than all the ‘spurious talk about “self-organizing” systems and emergent properties of distributed collaboration’. In practice, software engineering is ‘a notoriously hard problem’. 107 But Netscape didn’t succeed – cautionary tale is that you can’t just expect ‘the magic pixie dust of ‘open source” to do marvels. ‘Software is hard. The issues aren’t that simple’.

5. Fomenting movements:

108 Raymond suggested Open Source at a 1997 summit. 109 Trouble is he stressed new forms of coordination over new practices of sharing code or writing copyright licenses. Raymond not into enhanced human liberty but into development model of innovation in software production. A pragmatist and libertarian who had no time for what he regarded as the dreamy communitarianism of Stallman and his Free Software Foundation. Thought Stallman’s dogmatism was preventing business world from adopting Free Software.

112 Raymond et al won recognition for Free Software and its role in the success of the Internet, but under  ‘true name’ of Open Source. 112 At any rate, in practical terms, geeks still did things as usual; ‘different narratives for identical practices’.

112- A Movement?

113 FS and Open Source are NOT:

  • collectives: no membership
  • informal organisation: i.e. not bands of hackers, crackers or thieves
  • a crowd: this is temporary, while FS extended in time
  • social movement: FS and OS ‘share practices first, and ideologies second’

So the movement shares basic agreement over ‘the other four kinds of practices’.

[But is ‘movement’, I wonder, the best term to describe the meta-practice of talking about the other four practices?]

[Also, could we regard FS as a recursive field of practice? a field with its own sectors, fundamental laws, sites, arenas, leading practitioners, apprentices, etc, see Postill this blog]

[At any rate, I’m reminded here of Boellstorff equally helpful clarification of what Second Life is NOT; such conceptual ground clearing is fundamental if the argument is to proceed].

114 ‘figuring out’ via reflection is crucial to FS and its recursivity

114 The movement is a practice of storytelling: ‘affect- and intellect-laden lore that orients existing participants toward a particular problem, contests other histories, parries attacks from outside, and draws in new recruits’.

114 Researcher must be aware of geeks’ ‘archival hubris’ – virtually all their discussions are archived

115- Conclusion

Before 1998, no movement existed. But suddenly geeks had to take sides – either Free Software or Open Source.

[Isn’t this a classic Victor Turnerian ‘arena’ pointing to the potential usefulness of regarding FS as a political field in the classic Manchester School definition, i.e. a field in which struggles over public matters are fought out – see this blog and Turner’s Dramas, Fields and Metaphors; see also edited volume Political Anthropology, 1966].

116 OS and FS materially identical, but different ideologies. OS privileges technopreneuralism, while FS privileges individual creativity and self-fashioning via software creation [very similar to Linden Lab’s rhetoric about Second Life?].

116 This ideological discrepancy but practical sameness means that ‘the real space of politics and contestation is at the level of these practices and their emergence’. [Erm, I’m not clear about this, will revisit it later].

Chapter 4

Preface & Introduction

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