- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Duke University Press Books (June 9, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0822342642
- ISBN-13: 978-0822342649
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,649,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
From the Back Cover
""Two Bits" describes the way those who work and play with Free Software themselves change in the process--engendering what Kelty calls 'recursive publics'--social configurations that realize the Internet's non-hierarchical, ever-evolving, and thus historically attuned logic, creatively updating the types of public spheres previously theorized by Habermas and Michael Warner, among others. "Two Bits" does something similar, pulling readers into an experimental (ethnographic) mode that draws out how Open Source movements have garnered the momentum and significance they have today. The book--on paper and online--quite literally shows how it is done, itself embodying the standards that make Free Software work. "Two Bits" is critical reading, in all senses."--Kim Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Many definitions have been proposed of the "participant observer". Anthropologists who claim this position for themselves see it as a way to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their natural environment, usually over an extended period of time. It is different from "going native": the participant observer usually remains an outside figure, who can provide support and hold various functions in the group but who makes it clear, at least to himself, that the locus of his engagement lies in the rendition he will make from his experience, not in the services or tasks he will have completed for the group during fieldwork. A key element in this research strategy is therefore to gain access to the group but also, perhaps equally important, the exit strategy that will allow the ethnographer to leave the field and return to a more distant point of observation.
Christopher Kelty does not make explicit his own definition of participant observation, but he nonetheless fancies a self-image: "I am a geek". Becoming a geek is an integral part of his research project, and most ethnographic notes or vignettes are devoted to that process. For him, understanding how Free Software works is not just an academic pursuit but an experience that transforms the lives and work of participants involved: "something like religion". The stories he tells about geeks, stories that geeks tell about themselves, are meant to "evangelize and advocate", and to convert people to the cause.
His engagement with and exploration of Free Software got him involved in another project called Connexions, an "open content repository of educational materials" or a provider of Open Source textbooks. Connexions textbooks look different from conventional textbooks in that they consist of digital documents or "modules" that are strung together and made available through the Web under a Creative Commons license that allows for free use, reuse, and modification. Kelty would like his role in the Connexions project to be akin to an academic consultant, an anthropologist-in-residence that could provide advice and guidance based on his "expertise in social theory, philosophy, history, and ethnographic research." But that is not how it turns out: "The fiction that I had first adopted--that I was bringing scholarly knowledge to the table--became harder and harder to maintain the more I realized that it was my understanding of Free Software, gained through ongoing years of ethnographic apprenticeship, that was driving my involvement." He cannot fit into the anthropologist's shoes because there is no need for one at Connexions. And so he ends up providing legal advice (which, strictly speaking, he is not qualified to do) and doing intermediary work with Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that promotes copyright-free licenses.
Fieldwork is what anthropologists do. But what do anthropologists do when they do fieldwork? The definition has evolved over time. An anthropologist used to hang around in a remote place for a while, getting acquainted with the people, pressing informants with questions, and taking ethnographic notes. In our age of globalization, there is more emphasis on multiple sites, nomadic fieldwork, and de-centered ethnography. People move constantly from one location to the next, so why should the ethnographer be the only one to stay at the same place? Besides, in our interconnected world, something that happens in one place is often caused or explained by another phenomenon occurring in a distant place, and following the object under consideration is like pulling a thread from a ball of yarn. But fieldwork remains a central tenet of the anthropologist's identity, what distinguishes him or her from scholars in other disciplines who "don't do fieldwork".
Kelty insists that his account of the Free Software movement is based on ethnographic fieldwork. He gives a few vignettes of his engagement in the "field": meeting two healthcare entrepreneurs at a Starbuck in Boston, cruising the night scene in Berlin, hanging around with local hackers in Bangalore, and, in the end, getting a position in the anthropology department at Rice University in Houston, where the Connexions project is based. But there is little purpose to these mentions of various locations, apart to demonstrate the coolness of the author and his persistence in becoming a geek akin to the ones he associates with. When it comes to substance, his real source of information is online. As he notes, nearly everything about the Internet's history is archived. He is even able to track back newsgroup discussions dating back to the 1980s and chronicling the birth of open systems. As a result, the brunt of Kelty's research presented in Two Bits is either archival work into the history of computer science or consulting work for the Connexions project, not ethnographic fieldwork in the strict sense of the word.
Anthropologists writing PhD dissertations are requested to demonstrate skills in manipulating theory. The canon of works to be mastered is rather limited: a grounding in Marx, a heavy dose of Foucault, some exposure to Freud or Lacan, add a pinch of feminist theory or media studies for those so inclined, and the PhD student is all set. Even by that light standard, Kelty must have flunked his theory exam. He introduces Foucault mainly for the record, but all he draws from the famous article "What Is Enlightenment?" is a quote stating that modernity should be seen as an attitude rather than a period of history. In other words, geeks are modern because they are cool. In another passage, he mentions that the notion of recursive public that he proposes should be understood from the perspective of works by Jürgen Habermas, Michael Warner, Charles Taylor, John Dewey, and Hannah Arendt. Then he stops. Besides the obvious point that eighteenth century's coffee shops are different from today's Internet forums, there is no further elaboration on these authors.
Another aspect of theory is the elaboration of concepts. Here, Kelty fares better, but I would still give him only a passing grade. His notion of a "recursive public" is indeed a working concept, or a middle-range theory as social scientists are wont to propose. Kelty defines it as "a public that is constituted by a shared concern for maintaining the means of association through which they come together as a public." Recursivity is to be understood in the way computer programmers define procedures or name applications in terms of themselves. Popular examples include GNU ("GNU is Not UNIX"), but also EINE ("EINE Is Not EMACS") ou ZWEI ("ZWEI Was EINE Initially"). It is, to use another image, Escher's hand drawing itself. But the author does not try to sell his concept too hard: as mentioned, he does not explore the interplay with Habermas' notion of a public sphere, and he downplays its importance for future scholarship ("I intend neither for actors nor really for many scholars to find it generally applicable.") One would be at a loss to find other original concepts in the book. The expression "usable pasts" he uses to introduce his geek stories is just another name for modern myths. The notion of "singularity", a point in time when the speed of autonomous technological development outstrips the human capacity to control it, is only a piece of geek folklore. Visibly, Kelty is more interested in telling stories than building theory.
Some authors define anthropology as the interpretation of cultures. In his book's title, Kelty insists on the cultural significance of Free Software. Yet interpretation is lacking. By this, I mean that the anthropologist should be in search of meaning, not just facts or fictions. Kelty presents an orderly narrative of the origins and development of Free Software, organized around five basic functions: sharing code source, conceptualizing open systems, writing licenses, coordinating collaborative projects, and fomenting movements. He illustrates each chronological step with various stories, evolving around the development of the UNIX operating system and the standardization of Internet communications through TCP/IP. The result is informative if somewhat lengthy, but the cultural significance of the whole is not really addressed. Instead of wrapping-up the lessons of this history, the last part of the book moves to a completely different topic by asking what is happening to Free Software as it spreads beyond the word of hackers and software and into online textbook publishing.
Anthropologists are authors, and their writing skills matter enormously in the reception and impact of their works. The style of Two Bits is more attuned to a journalistic account than to a piece of scholarship. This shows especially in the vignettes placing the author in various situations and locations, which create a "reality effect" but do not really add anything to the comprehension of the subject. Lines like "Berlin. November 1999. I am in a very hip club in Mitte" or "Bangalore, March 2000. I am at another bar, this time on one of Bangalore's trendiest street" may be proper for nonfiction travelogues or media coverage, but they should not find their ways into anthropology books.
The author introduces the concept of "Recursive Public" in the opening chapters. Anyone interested in public sphere debates should have a look at this new concept.
A very detailed but understandably narrated history of licensing issues in open software and a good history of developing UNIX and its forks can be found in this book.
Finally, the reader will have a look how open source software can be applied in publishing by focusing on the Connexions project...