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Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software

3.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0822342649
ISBN-10: 0822342642
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[R]ich with empirical insight and exceptionally well written, Two Bits is delightful to read. I recommend the book to readers interested in open source, technology, and social change. . . .” - Zack Kertcher, American Journal of Sociology


“It would be a great pity indeed if anthropologists, assuming they have no interest in software development, were to ignore the subtitle of this book. Because ‘the cultural significance of free software’ takes to heart matters of concern to all anthropologists. . . . They would miss a book that has as much to contribute to the anthropology of law as to the anthropology of religion, both much enhanced by the unusual perspective that emerges from software development. They would also miss a good read.” - Daniel Miller, American Anthropologist


“I think Kelty’s book deserves a wide readership — especially among nerds trying to make sense of the past decade, let alone to prepare for the next one.” - Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed


“Considering the scope of the subject matter, the book is not especially steeped in technical jargon, and is therefore highly readable for a wide and varied audience. Contrary to first impression this book is not specifically directed towards geeks, software code authors, or other computer nerds, although these individuals will find the book informative and inspiring. It also should be read by all those who have positions of influence such as teachers, cultural studies academics, government decision/policy makers and of course members of the legal profession.” - Rob Harle, Leonardo


“[A] closely argued, well-defended, painstakingly referenced treatise covering one of the most complex, and possibly least understood, cultural movements of recent decades. . . . [D]eeply engaging.” - John Gilbey, Times Higher Education


“In this study of the Free Software/Open Source movement, Christopher Kelty provides a fascinating look into a world that may initially seem arcane to those outside the field, but which illuminates many connections between ‘geek’ culture and the wider world as well. . . . In a moment marked by Wikipedia and Facebook, new connections and forms are emerging every day. Two Bits reaches beyond the technicalities of the Free Software movement to help provide productive ways to think about these non-traditional communities as they are only beginning to imagine themselves.” - Erica A. Farmer, Anthropological Quarterly


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


“I know of no other book that mixes so beautifully a deep theoretical understanding of social theory with a rich historical and contemporary ethnography of the Free Software and free culture movements. Christopher M. Kelty’s book speaks to many audiences; his message should be understood by many more.”—Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School


“[A] closely argued, well-defended, painstakingly referenced treatise covering one of the most complex, and possibly least understood, cultural movements of recent decades. . . . [D]eeply engaging.”
(John Gilbey, Times Higher Education)

“[R]ich with empirical insight and exceptionally well written, Two Bits is delightful to read. I recommend the book to readers interested in open source, technology, and social change. . . .”
(Zack Kertcher, American Journal of Sociology)

“Considering the scope of the subject matter, the book is not especially steeped in technical jargon, and is therefore highly readable for a wide and varied audience. Contrary to first impression this book is not specifically directed towards geeks, software code authors, or other computer nerds, although these individuals will find the book informative and inspiring. It also should be read by all those who have positions of influence such as teachers, cultural studies academics, government decision/policy makers and of course members of the legal profession.”
(Rob Harle, Leonardo)

“I think Kelty’s book deserves a wide readership — especially among nerds trying to make sense of the past decade, let alone to prepare for the next one.”
(Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed)

“In this study of the Free Software/Open Source movement, Christopher Kelty provides a fascinating look into a world that may initially seem arcane to those outside the field, but which illuminates many connections between ‘geek’ culture and the wider world as well. . . . In a moment marked by Wikipedia and Facebook, new connections and forms are emerging every day. Two Bits reaches beyond the technicalities of the Free Software movement to help provide productive ways to think about these non-traditional communities as they are only beginning to imagine themselves.”
(Erica A. Farmer, Anthropological Quarterly)

“It would be a great pity indeed if anthropologists, assuming they have no interest in software development, were to ignore the subtitle of this book. Because ‘the cultural significance of free software’ takes to heart matters of concern to all anthropologists. . . . They would miss a book that has as much to contribute to the anthropology of law as to the anthropology of religion, both much enhanced by the unusual perspective that emerges from software development. They would also miss a good read.”
(Daniel Miller, American Anthropologist)

From the Publisher

"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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (June 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822342642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822342649
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,365,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
An anthropological take on Free Software (or Open Source Software). Can be easily read even though the reader may not have much in-depth knowledge on related issues such as UNIX.
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...
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Two Bits is a failed anthropology project. It does not make it a bad book: it is well-written and informative, and I learned a lot about Free Software and Open Source by reading it. But it does not meet academic standards that one is to expect from a book published in an anthropology series. These standards, as I see them, pertain to the position of the anthropologist; the importance of fieldwork; the role of theory; the interpretation of facts; and the style of ethnographic writing. Let me elaborate on these five points.

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.
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