This post builds on the research article “Code Is Speech: Legal Tinkering, Expertise, and Protest among Free and Open Source Software Developers,” which was published in the August 2009 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays on the practices and politics of digital media. See particularly Brian Axel's "Anthropology and the New Technologies of Communication" (2006), Christopher Kelty's "Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics" (2005), and René T. A. Lysloff's "Musical Community on the Internet: An On-line Ethnography" (2003). Also see Anthropology of/in Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies, a conversation in Cultural Anthropology amongst open access advocates.
Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of essays on the politics of law. See, for example, Damani James Partridge's "We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe" (2008), Heather Paxson's "Post-Pasteurian Cultures: The Microbiopolitics of Raw-Milk Cheese in the United States" (2008), Ilana Feldman's "Difficult Distinctions: Refugee Law, Humanitarian Practice, and Political Identification in Gaza" (2007), and Sarah Jain's "'Dangerous Instrumentality': The Bystander as Subject in Automobility" (2004).
Questions for Classroom Discussion
1. What is the distinction between "free speech" and "free beer" and why is this difference significant for the hackers Coleman discusses?
2. Is the technical work of writing code, designing software, etc. inherently political? If so, in what ways? If not, how are such activities politicized?
3. How did the epistemological shift from software as property to software as speech occur?
4. According to Coleman, how does equating source code with speech relate to liberalism as a political philosophy? How does F/OSS embody the principles of liberalism?
5. In what ways is the ability to challenge formal legal structures made possible by the digital form with which hackers work; how might the efficacy of their arguments change if they were working with an analog or print form instead?
Axel, Brian. 2006. Anthropology and the New Technologies of Communication. Cultural Anthropology 21(3): 354-384.
Coleman, E. Garbriella, and Alex Golub. 2008. Hacker Practice: Moral Genres and the Cultural Articulation of Liberalism. Anthropological Theory 8(3): 255-277.
Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff. 2003. Reflections on Liberalism, Policulturalism, and ID-Ology: Citizenship and Difference in South Africa. Social Identities 9(3): 445-474.
Feldman, Ilana. 2007. Difficult Distinctions: Refugee Law, Humanitarian Practice, and Political Identification in Gaza. Cultural Anthropology 22(1): 129 169.
Jain, Sarah. 2004. 'Dangerous Instrumentality': The Bystander as Subject in Automobility. Cultural Anthropology 19(1): 61-94.
Kelty, Christopher. 2005. Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics. Cultural Anthropology 20(2): 185-214.
Lessig, Lawrence. 2001. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. New York: Random House.
Lysloff, René T. A. 2003. Musical Community on the Internet: An On-line Ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 18(2): 233-263.
Partridge, Damani. 2008. We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe. Cultural Anthropology 23(4): 660-687.
Warner, Michael. 2002. Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone.
In the August 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Gabriella Coleman examines how Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS) developers have reconfigured the ethical, legal, and cultural meanings of source code and speech "by producing and altering both technology and the law." Drawing upon Robert Cover's concept of "jurisgenesis," Coleman demonstrates how F/OSS developers explore and expand the meaning of liberal freedom as they produce new legal tools and analyses along with new software.
Coleman focuses on how source code came to be framed as constitutionally protected free speech by F/OSS developers following the arrests of Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov, both of whom developed software that violated the DigitalMillennium Copyright Act. Coleman finds that F/OSS developers use similar skills to concurrently tinker with both technology and the law, allowing for the transformation of technologists into informal legal scholars.
Through the protests surrounding Johansen and Sklyarov, Coleman argues that heightened visibility was brought to the social processes related to the development of F/OSS, leading to a proliferation ofstatements connecting code to speech, rather than private property. In doing so, Coleman provides a better understanding of the relationship between the technical and political, and historicizes the shifting meaning of democratic citizenship that has emerged from this technical and legal work.