Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

By E. Gabriella Coleman | Go to book overview
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PART I
HISTORIES

While we read history we make history.
—George William Curtis, The Call of Freedom

The next two chapters are general in their scope, meant to introduce readers to the world of free software, and do so from two related although distinct vantage points, both historically informed. Chapter 1, as mentioned above, describes a typical life history compiled from over fifty in-person interviews along with twenty email and/or Internet Relay Chat (IRC) interviews. It portrays everyday life and historical transformation as many experience it: in a mundane register, and without the awareness that we are making or are part of history. What it seeks to show is how hackers become hackers slowly over time and through a range of varied activities. This process, though experienced in quotidian ways, is ultimately a historical affair, for the hackers of yesteryear are not quite the same as those of today, despite crucial continuities. The first chapter tracks some of the changes within free software and also provides basic sociological data about free software developers: where they learned to program, where they work, and how they interact with other developers.

Chapter 2 turns away from personal accounts to tell a more global story. It traces two distinct but overlapping legal trajectories and their eventual clash. During the same period in which intellectual property law assumed tremendous and global regulatory power, free software also rose to prominence, eventually providing one of the most robust challenges ever to intellectual property laws. The legal alternatives made and supported by free software did not always follow from politically motivated action, but rather from the experiences involved in the production of free software. These experiences were formative, leading a generation of hackers to become astute legal thinkers and producers—knowledge that was in turn eventually marshaled for political protest against the current intellectual property regime.

Before turning to these two chapters, it is worth highlighting how historical representation is a delicate play of fabrications, or stated a little more

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