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Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking [Paperback]

E. Gabriella Coleman
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 19 2012

Who are computer hackers? What is free software? And what does the emergence of a community dedicated to the production of free and open source software--and to hacking as a technical, aesthetic, and moral project--reveal about the values of contemporary liberalism? Exploring the rise and political significance of the free and open source software (F/OSS) movement in the United States and Europe, Coding Freedom details the ethics behind hackers' devotion to F/OSS, the social codes that guide its production, and the political struggles through which hackers question the scope and direction of copyright and patent law. In telling the story of the F/OSS movement, the book unfolds a broader narrative involving computing, the politics of access, and intellectual property.

E. Gabriella Coleman tracks the ways in which hackers collaborate and examines passionate manifestos, hacker humor, free software project governance, and festive hacker conferences. Looking at the ways that hackers sustain their productive freedom, Coleman shows that these activists, driven by a commitment to their work, reformulate key ideals including free speech, transparency, and meritocracy, and refuse restrictive intellectual protections. Coleman demonstrates how hacking, so often marginalized or misunderstood, sheds light on the continuing relevance of liberalism in online collaboration.


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Review

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"Coding Freedom is insightful and fascinating, a superbly observed picture of the motives, divisions and history of the free software and software freedom world."--Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

"Anyone who thinks about programmers, open source, online communities, or the politics of intellectual property should have a copy of Coding Freedom on the shelf. It is an invaluable portrait of how free-software coders work, individually and collectively."--James Grimmelmann, Jotwell

"The hacker ethic may be peculiar to outsiders. But it stems from a deep commitment to justice, fairness, and freedom. Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman describes in her phenomenal book Coding Freedom how hacker ethic gets encoded into both technical and political practice."--Danah Boyd, Wired

"Though occasionally she uses academic jargon, her book is an intriguing read and connects the dots. . . . Reading this book will help you to understand the conflict, as well as hacker culture."--David Hutchinson, io9.com

"[S]triking and important. . . . Coleman has captured a great deal of the essential spirit of the free- and open-software movement. . . . I strongly suggest that you buy a copy of the book."--John Gilbey, Times Higher Education

"[I]t is well-written and the analyses really get to the heart of some deeply ethical questions about individual, group and political relationships in voluntary groups which are rarely considered in such detail."--John R. Hudson, Briefing Bradford

"This work by Coleman is at once history, ethnography, cultural criticism, and storytelling. . . . Once can read the book as a narrative of the free software and open source movements, or as a sympathetic description of the behavior norms of hackers. . . . Some readers will likely not consider hackers' aesthetic appreciation of good or clever coding as beauty, nor hackers' humor as funny, but these are Coleman's courageous attempts to provide a rounded depiction of this subculture. This book seems likely to be one of the defining works of cultural anthropology."--Choice

"Coding Freedom is a persuasive piece of writing that tackles some of the questions central to the current political climate."--Sebastian Kubitschko, Culture Machine

"Coding Freedom is an important analysis of F/OSS that offers deep ethnographic detail and creates a complex appreciation of this phenomenon. Coleman is also able to take this rich detail and extend it into the ethics and politics of F/OSS, connecting internal community principles to wider political effects, of which she provides a unique analysis. This book is compulsory reading for anyone interested in the cultural and social meaning of F/OSS and will powerfully repay anyone interested in the nature of ethics and society in the 21st century."--Tim Jordan, American Journal of Sociology

From the Inside Flap

"Coleman knows, understands, and lives free culture. No one is more credible or more fascinating when describing the lives of the women and men whose mission is an open, free information age."--Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and coauthor of The Rapture of the Nerds

"Coleman's book is definitive--everything in it is lovingly detailed, exhaustively researched, fluently written, and packed with provocative insights. A monument of scholarship, it combines the best of anthropology with an unconventional and fresh approach to law, political theory, and ethics. From the conference-going world of software programmers to the humor and pleasures of code-fu, and from the phantasms of free speech to the passion and pathos of technical committees, Coleman is an extraordinary guide to the world of contemporary hacking."--Christopher Kelty, University of California, Los Angeles

"Coleman's book on free and open source software programmers and hackers is desperately needed and will be a significant, landmark contribution to our understanding of the current technologically mediated moment. Coleman mixes case studies with learned treatments of this community, changes in the legal environment, and other relevant dimensions."--Thomas M. Malaby, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"This is a revelatory ethnographic look at the origins and evolution of the free and open source software subculture. Coleman provides entirely new insights into the humor, aesthetics, and social life of hackers, while exploring the philosophical implications of open source for ideas about personal freedom, labor, and markets. Coding Freedom is an essential study of the technological revolution of our times."--Joseph Masco, University of Chicago

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This book is an impressive work of the anthropologist Gabriella Coleman about the free and open source software world. She immersed herself in the hacker community for many years painting a very detailed and analyzed picture of this whole movement.

I consider myself part of this community (or at least believe it :) for many years and reading the first chapters was like reliving my whole life from 13 to 21. The portrait of open source activists and hackers is staggering with details that simply fits my life even though I was NEVER interviewed by the author.

This is truly a serious and well documented piece of work and I recommend to everyone wanting to understand what this community is all about, how it came to life and what is it fighting for today. Understanding this world open your eyes to a whole new set of possibilities. :)

Thanks Gabriella for this!
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1.0 out of 5 stars I can't believe I once liked this book Jan. 21 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book, in a few steps:

1. Glamourize hacker culture, with the implicit support of hackers who want to see themselves as heroes.
2. Take a strain of political activism, which is frequently youthful and free of maturity/nuance, and turn it into a "world-changing force."
3. Wrap it all in pseudo-academic jargon suitable for a Philosophy undergraduate,
4. Sell it as academic material to the ruling class.

And that's how you mill an youthful, well-meaning, sometimes misguided political movement into pretentious yarn for old white academics.

I can't believe I once liked this book. This is pure fraud.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Embedded Academic Reflects Deeply and Widely Jan. 17 2013
Format:Paperback
In November I completed a four month sabbatical from my regular work as a Minister with The United Church of Canada. The topic of my sabbatical was to look for the "spirit" in the Open Source Developer Community. During that time, I read a number of books all revolving around the topic in one fashion or another. I received "Coding Freedom" as soon as it was available, but a few weeks after I returned to work. In many ways, this is the book I might have wanted to write as a reflection on the things I learned. Gabriella Coleman was able to do what I might have wanted to do - embed herself in an open source community - the Debian Linux project to be precise - in order to discover what makes the people who write this software tick. I came away from this book wondering if there is some way I can go back to school and work on this topic some more at McGill - where Ms. Coleman is currently a professor. At the beginning Ms. Coleman suggests that she will do her best to meld academic rigour and readability and she does a pretty fine job of it. I was hoping to find connections that would support some of my own theories around the ethical stance and "spirituality" of people involved in the hacker (not cracker!) community and the fact that I did not, is not a critique of the author, but rather a caution for myself, that perhaps I was expecting too much, and too narrow a focus for this community which stretches around the world geographically and stretches in other ways in terms of the range of worldviews that are encompassed by it. Just the same, Gabriella Coleman, because of her deep analysis and lengthy relationship with the open source developer community is able to describe an ethic and sensibility that is both a product of the community and a drawing card for those who are part of it. Well done, a complete and deep assessment that still left me wanting more!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential lexicon for future technology Jan. 21 2013
By Tom Marble - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Coleman understands us better than we understand ourselves.

It is difficult for me to top the reviews of others -- including
the review from Simon who is a friend, colleague and important voice in FLOSS.

I was initially drawn to understand the legal underpinnings
of Free Software because I was struck how essential it is
to have the "freedom to be creative". Typically artists, say painters,
are not given tools of their craft with odd restrictions like
1) paint anything you like, but you cannot use colors in combination
without asking permission first and 2) you may not be inspired
by the masters who have come before you.

That our digital era involves "copying" for any use has led to
a bonanza for the "content development industries". Lessig has
covered the price we pay as a culture for this unintended consequence.
Coleman gives perspective on Lessig's influence in the large -- a perspective
which is desperately needed today.

Artists of the keyboard (hackers) have had to become aware of
the law and specifically how copyright works to understand
how "open source" enables creativity.

The trajectory of technology is pointing clearly to software
in a starring role. And thus fully understanding the power
and risks of software for creativity, privacy, security and free speech
is not optional. Coding Freedom offers a lexicon to discuss
and work together for the kind of technology we want in our society.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very, very good Jan. 4 2013
By Peter Fein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Speaking as a programmer and husband of an anthropologist, this is one heck of a good book. Coleman strikes the rare balance between academic rigor and readability. She clearly explains the experience of being a hacker in terms understandable to a lay audience. I was blown away by the connections she draws between the open source movement and larger trends in free speech and intellectual property law.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally somebody who really understands hackers Dec 2 2012
By Rabble - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
So much has been written about software developers and hacker culture is done by people who haven't spent the time to figure out how it really works. Coleman has taken her academic work on hackers and made it in to something that is both accessible and has intellectual depth. Well worth reading for anybody who's trying to understand the culture of hackers, the culture of people who make software which is reshaping the world.

One really cool part of the book is it gets in to the relationship between hacker culture and politics. Why do hackers become political and around which issues.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely and informative July 27 2013
By JShak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a general insight into the culture of free software developers it lines up nicely with the new interest in the cyber realm (malicious hackers are not covered in the book). It is written very densely with Coleman featuring a pleasant, eloquent style of writing, though the myriad of influences that helped form her world view and the wealth of information at times make it a bit laborious to read. Nonetheless, the insight this ethnography presents is enriching not only for the general reader, but also the field of cultural anthropology itself. Thank you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book very interesting research and findings May 29 2013
By yael vaya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent book, refreshing to read an anthropological study on FOSS (and the Debian community in particular) and, such a thorough one. Many insights, one of the most impressing (to me) was that FOSS is rooted in liberal thought. By creating the copyleft license, Stallman, according to Coleman, implied the same kind of skills he used for solving complicated bugs. By creating, as it where, a patch, to a conflict rooted at the heart of western, capitalist liberalism. That of Individual freedom verses copy right law. This insight is impressive as I personally never read or heard anyone provide evidence for such an idea. What’s more, Coleman describes processes and change within FOSS - for example, the development of FOSS discourse over freedom. Her demonstration of the way in which liberalism is incorporated on the individual level by FOSS developers is also insightful - constant self-improvement verses consumption. However, for me the greatest take is that by tying between liberal thought and FOSS, Coleman provides a great base for researching the role of FOSS within society, not just Hacker culture. What’s more it holds the potential of shifting the discussion from WHAT is being produced by FOSS developers and the ways it can be utilized, to the question of WHY is it being produced in the first place and what kind of need does it fulfill?
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