Have you have questioned whether or not computer hackers really spend their whole day staring at their computer screens in a dark basement eating nothing but potato chips? Well, in her 2013 Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking E. Gabriella Coleman certainly does. Encouraged to examine the “sociocultural mechanisms by which technoscience can act as the basis for broader societal transformation” (x), Coleman’s book’s challenges readers to dismiss preconceived notions between software sharing, copyright/copyleft laws, (neo) liberal philosophy, and most significantly, hackers, or rather, computer aficionados. According to Coleman’s critical ethnographic study, all hackers, in one way or another, are committed to “productive freedom,” and that in their “inquisitive passion for tinkering and learning technical systems, [they’re] frequently committed to an ethical version of information freedom” (3). She is interested in documenting the ethical and technical practice of hackers in expanding free software and technical practicality. As a result, Coleman’s work humanizes computer hackers, by ethnographically documenting the social characteristics of hackers, and with it, their cultural politics by examining the “practices of programming, joking, and norms of socialization through which they produce software and their hacker selves” (21).
    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).
Highlighting this incongruous, Coleman provides readers an insightful example to the duplicity of US entrepreneurs and global elites in (re) fashioning international laws through the protection of classic western liberal rhetoric. Her analysis reveals a timely analysis to why intellectual property rights were reconfigured, and the role that F/OSS hacker, (un) willingly, had in it. In all, I really found Coding Freedom to be a fascinating account to what Boyle and Coombe have argued to be a dire, unequivocal issue for people, ideas, and freedom.
Discussion Questions:
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?

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