May 11, 2005

Kelty’s Recursive Publics

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 10:14 am

Check out Chris Kelty’s new piece, Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics. Not only is it a very clever argument about the unique constitution of the geek public, this may be the first full length article related to FOSS to come out in an anthropology journal. CK edited a shorter set of articles in AQ on IP, geeks, FOSS, and the law but this new piece ups the ante. He has cracked up the coconut for anthro geek studies in provocative ways and I am sure more good stuff will follow.

This article investigates the social, technical, and legal affiliations among “geeks” (hackers, lawyers, activists, and IT entrepreneurs) on the Internet. The mode of association specific to this group is that of a “recursive public sphere” constituted by a shared imaginary of the technical and legal conditions of possibility for their own association. On the basis of fieldwork conducted in the United States, Europe, and India, I argue that geeks imagine their social existence and relations as much through technical practices (hacking, networking, and code writing) as through discursive argument (rights, identities, and relations). In addition, they consider a “right to tinker” a form of free speech that takes the form of creating, implementing, modifying, or using specific kinds of software (especially Free Software) rather than verbal discourse.

May 8, 2005

David Graeber, Petition

Category: Not Wholesome — Biella @ 11:46 pm

Because Yale has refused to renew the two year teaching contract for David Graeber, an anthropology professor, students are organizing on his behalf, calling for the University to re-hire him. The petition-letter is short, and all the more powerful because of it. They cut to the chase:

What we all share is an admiration for David’s work linking scholarly research to leadership and action in the wider world. In recognition of his contributions to the Yale community and to the wider scholarly community, we strongly urge Yale University and the Yale University Department of Anthropology to take all steps necessary to ensure that David Graeber continues to remain a member of the faculty of the Yale Department of Anthropology.

Undoubtedly the administration and the faculty see him as political nuisance. He is known for his unflagging political commitment, work, and organizing. He has written profusely about them, and in ways that are humorous, clear and accessible; I taught
Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology in my hacker class this year, and it profoundly challenged most students in the class. Even those uncompelled by his critique of capitalism, nonetheless, respected his arguments, largely because of his honesty, clarity, and wit. We need more scholars willing to cross the bridge between activism and the academy, political labor and mental labor, but they can only do so with steady employment. If you know David, or his work and support it, support the petition.

May 7, 2005

GPL-Queer or Gay?

Category: Humor — Biella @ 11:37 pm

There is some sort of perverse pleasure in knowing that it’s basically impossible to send a piece of hate mail through the Internet without its being touched by a gay program. — Eric Allman, about Sendmail.

So, I was once asked, ok more than once, is there much of a gay presence in the world of geekdom? Well, there is not much of one, but there is one. Today, on IRC someone pasted a pretty funny quote made by Eric Allman, the author of Sendmail (an important Intenet mail routing program) about his gay identity. It is *hilarious.*

It reminded me of the queer theory (Judith Butler, 1997) I used in a small discussion of the nature of FOSS licensing, although I could not call the GPL queer ( queer in relation to copyright, that is) as I orginally wanted to; but after more thinking, the GPL is much more like a gay license because it attempt to normalize itself by integrating free speech discourse. This is what I wrote in my dissertation (due in 3 days) about it, minus any reference to queer or gay:

Even when developers don’t explicitly address normative IP law during discussion, the copyleft and related FOSS licensing inherently invokes and calls attention to its opposite, the law of copyright and IP law. Queer, linguistic, and anthropological theory has demonstrated that any naturalized proposition (like hetreosexuality) or social fact both presupposes and ultimately propagates what it excludes (Butler 1997; Derrida; Graeber 2001, 2004). David Graeber sees a creative potential in all social concepts and artifacts, a

May 6, 2005

What a week

Category: Uncategorized — Biella @ 2:49 pm

biella will finish her dissertation (I think) and with only some minimal damage to her psyche, the broadcast flag is struck down (for now), and sarge is frozen (f*cking finally and congrats Debian :-) )!

May 2, 2005

Assert our right for more (fig 1)

Category: Humor — Biella @ 9:22 am

So I recently wrote about the importance of crisis for sustaining an active ethical life. Since then, I have finished the section using a real life Debian example (many to choose from, thanks Debian!) but since it is too long to post here, I only want to provide a description of the paradox that crisis induces: a state of unity in disunity.

Below is a short description of the crisis I describe in the chapter (perhaps later I will tell the full strory here but for those Debian developers that read, they I am sure will know I am talking about the infamous Vancouver Prospectus). I have also included a *very* accurate and *scientific* figure of the emotional state of the crisis. Unlike sociologists, economists, and psychologists, anthropologists ar WIMPS, we just don’t exploit frequently enough the force of representational data like charts and pictures. I say we should. I say let’s assert our right to point to “figure 1″ and represent the social world we write in a glossy picture or a chart with lots of arrows of causation and attribution. Ok, let’s see how.


….. I was awed by the cascade of responses that emerged from one email. Before addressing its content, it is first worth describing the emotive and social atmosphere of utter paradox that arose, in which synchronicity sat alongside unsettling discordance. The project was in one of the most pronounced moments of synchronicity that I had seen in a long time. Hundreds and hundreds of developers gave their due attention in the form of voluminous writings

May 1, 2005

Hacker Jousting and chutzpah–the making of a hacker expert

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 8:45 am

Also on my academic blog DGI, I post it here. So my advisor wanted more instance of joking and boasting in code and here are some examples with some initial reflections on what is all means (mostly taken from my dissertation).

Sherry Turkle long ago wrote about hacking as “sports death.” Below, using the example of code, I would like to show how the boasting and taunting and disdain found in comment code performs as a jousting comepetition that acts like thier informal peer review process and it the basis by which they embody the role of expert hacker. My own brash language and snarky jokes will probably not remain in the final version, but it is the only way I get through writing my dissertation…

If the subject of elitism erupts on mailing lists discussion over project organization, a form of stylized boasting, taunting, cajoling, and elistist disdain is often performed and at the level of code. Let me provide two examples. The first one is written in the style of an