By grounding her study with the individual experiences, communal networks, and shared committing in making accessible source codes and software, Coding Freedom recounts the historical narrative regarding the origins of Free and Open-Source Software F/OSS, its contentious adolescence between computer hobbyists and corporate employees, and the proliferation/absorption of open software into the global and commercial economy. The bulk of Coleman’s study concerns the philosophical focus of F/OSS hackers, arguing that “the importance of knowledge, self-cultivation, and self-expression” are a vital locus of how they understand freedom (3). In doing so, this book provides a richer understanding as to how discourse of classic liberal philosophy (free speech, free market) does not hold sway when analyzed through the world of computer hackers.
One of the more gravitating aspects of Coleman’s study is the misalignment between claims that liberalism and its material-driven practices secure individual freedom. Accordingly, Coleman study finds this to be of major significance regarding the blossoming possibilities between F/OSS hackers and the limitations offered by a dominant neoliberal global agenda. By offering a critique of (neo) liberalism, “but rarely using the language of neoliberalism” (4), Coleman reveals that hacking provides a legitimate and vital political space for the advancement of alternative ways in theorizing on free access and shared opportunities for information, cyber-activism, and copyleft laws. As she observes in her brief historical account regarding the parallel rise of global policies/institutions and the reformulation of copyright and intellectual property rights:
Neoliberalism champions the rights of individuals, deems monopolies regressive, and relishes establishing a world free of government regulation…however, the actual instantiation of neoliberal free trade requires active state intervention, regulation, and [as such] monopolies…and the global regulation of intellectual property law is perhaps one of the clearest instances of the contradictory underpinnings of neoliberal practice (73).
1) As any historical-ethnographic study should, Coleman humanizes the world of hacking. Specifically, she does this through numerous ways such as joining IRC and attending cons. This question regards how Coleman incorporates name-dropping as a potential for political resistance. Citing the historical trajectories of (now) important names, such as Bill Gates and Richard Stallman, do you think this is helpful in her larger critique of neoliberal intellectual property regulations?
2) In “A Tale of Two Legal Regimes” Coleman traces the mid eighties/early nineties period to have seen the consolidation of new trade associations as well as the moment whereby the creation of Free Software (FSF) was created. She goes on to write that it was during this time that “many hackers also spoke a sophisticated legal language about the workings of intellectual property” (89). Returning to Kim’s question post to us last week, can we ascribe the example of “amateur legal scholars” (think Stallman, FSF, and the GNU project with Linux (p. 74) as an ethics of contingency? Or am I still thinking on institutional application vs. theoretical positioning?