Democratizing software: Open source, the hacker ethic, and beyond

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Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering


The development of computer software and hardware in closed-source, corporate environments limits the extent to which technologies can be used to empower the marginalized and oppressed. Various forms of resistance and counter-mobilization may appear, but these reactive efforts are often constrained by limitations that are embedded in the technologies by those in power. In the world of open source software development, actors have one more degree of freedom in the proactive shaping and modification of technologies, both in terms of design and use. Drawing on the work of philosopher of technology Andrew Feenberg, I argue that the open source model can act as a forceful lever for positive change in the discipline of software development. A glance at the somewhat vacuous hacker ethos, however, demonstrates that the technical community generally lacks a cohesive set of positive values necessary for challenging dominant interests. Instead, Feenberg's commitment to "deep democratization" is offered as a guiding principle for incorporating more preferable values and goals into software development processes. © 2003, First Monday.

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Copyright ©2003, First Monday. Copyright ©2003, Brent K. Jesiek. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v8i10.1082

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First Monday