As Jen mentioned, she and I are the facilitators of this week’s reading of Coleman (2013). While I will give a general overview of the book in the first part of this, I will be focusing more on the second part of the text.
In Coding Freedom: the Media and Aesthetics of Hacking, Coleman (2013) used a critical ethnographic approach to examine the ways in which the computer hacker culture challenge, re-conceptualize and expand upon the notions of freedom and liberalism. Specifically, focusing on the efforts of hackers that create free/open sourced software (F/OSS), Coleman (2013) explores not only how “…free software hacking critiques neoliberal trends and reinvents liberal ideals by asserting a strong conception of productive freedom in the face of intellectual property restrictions, it also addresses the material, affective, and aesthetic dimensions of hacking” (p. 4). She does this through the examination of the use of humor as a way to negotiate the tensions of hacker interactions within a world that is marked by the dynamic tensions of issues like individualism versus collectivism and populism versus elitism; how the inherent nature of F/OSS hacking has made these kind of hackers nascent legal experts who can critique and challenge modern intellectual property ideas, and; in the end, Coleman (2013) examined how the tenets of alternative liberalism and freedom born within F/OSS projects are transcending the hacker world to inform and complicate other realms of public discourse.
Anita Bryant, post-pieing.
While I plan on talking about all of parts II and III in depth while leading class discussion this week, there was one aspect of Coleman’s (2013) argument that I found relatively interesting in relation to the rest of the book and that was how hackers use humor within interactions. As tensions and frictions arose during interactions in and amongst hackers, humor was used to resolve them. Specifically, Coleman (2013) stated that: “Taking a close look at these frictions takes us a long way toward understanding the social context under which these hackers labor and why free speech ideals—in contrast to those of intellectual property instruments—resonate with their experiences” (p. 94-95). Initially, I was skeptical about Coleman’s (2013) connection between free speech ideals and humor, craftiness, cleverness and ingenuity (p. 95), the use of humor as a form of political speech is something that has been well documented in the past. From satire, to pranking to the contentious issue of pieing (Harold, 2004), humor as a political weapon for social commentary and political change has gained attention in the past several years. What was especially interesting was how humor amongst hackers was not only a sign of ingenuity and craftiness, but it was also a tool for enculturation, through the use of inside jokes, and a way negotiate tensions caused by simultaneously living in both an individualistic culture and a collectivistic culture. The latter was proven through the use of snarky comments like “read the fucking manual” (RTFM) when dealing with people asking obvious questions of fellow hackers (Coleman, 2013). Interestingly, Coleman’s (2013) anthropolgical background comes through in her analysis of humor as a tool of culture, because she frames her argument of humor as a tool of enculturation and political change as an “already given” understanding. However, there is a growing body of literature that is skeptical to whether or not humor can be a vehicle for political or social change, or whether it is actually a symptom of an underlying cause for the above mentioned changes. While this one critique of Coleman’s (2013) book is not nearly complete, it does act as a starting point for several discussion questions I have about Coding Freedom, a couple of which I have listed below:
1. What is your opinion of humor being regarded as a political, social and/or cultural agent for change (or maintaining the status quo)? While Coleman (2013) does acknowledge that humor is often a sign of craftiness and/or ingenuity, she also frames her argument as if humor itself is what is maintaining and/or changing the culture amongst F/OSS hackers. Is this something that is unique to the hacker culture, or can this be translated to society at large?
2. In her argument that intellectual property laws need to be revamped because “code is speech,” Coleman (2013) quoted Schoen’s DeCSS haiku: “(Do they understand/ the content, or is it just/ the effects they see?)” (p. 177). If the juridical system were to eventually agree that code acts exactly as speech does and is therefore protected under the First Amendment, how would the precedence effect other forms of media like film, television, music and web content?
Coleman, E. G. (2013). Coding freedom: The ethics and aesthetics of hacking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harold, C. (2004). Pranking rhetoric: "Culture jamming" as media activism. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(3), 189-211. doi: 10.1080/0739318042000212693.