Consumer Creativity as a Journey Toward a Moral Destiny: an Investigation of the Free/Open Source Software Community
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Drawing on Berman’s (1972, 1988) political-cultural view of creativity, this thesis contextualizes consumer creativity in the context of a consumer community wrought with paradoxes and conflicts. Adopting a netnography methodology and empirically examining how individual free/open source software (FOSS) community members interpret their own creative activities, this thesis finds that consumer creativity is a journey toward a moral destiny, with morality arising from the interplay between rationalism and Romanticism and the cultural, historical baggage of these two ideological systems (e.g., sexism in the domains of science and art). Along this journey, individual FOSS community members (i.e., FOSS programmers) co-create and negotiate their common identity—a craftsperson who is a scientist, artist, and moral warrior, an identity embodied by FOSS, their creative product and a form of technology. This journey is both sweet and bitter and full of paradoxes and conflicts, all of which have rich implications about the power relationships within the community. On the one hand, FOSS programmers recreate a mythologized paradise where they re-merge with the natural world and return to human nature and where they are re-actualizing the moral values of freedom, public interests, and egalitarianism. On the other hand, in this community, sexism against female programmers is rampant; some programmers could perceive that their creativity is constrained and exploited by powerful project owners and thereby feel alienated, frustrated, and trivialized; individual programmers could confront each other due to their different technological preferences and doubt each other’s motivations; and this community’s creative process is infused with politics. This thesis (1) enriches the marketing literature on consumer creativity which is dominated by an instrumental perspective of creativity by introducing the moral dimension of consumer creativity; (2) contributes to the marketing literature which is dominated by the view that the creative process is enjoyable and harmonious by examining paradoxes and conflicts in the creative process; and (3) enriches the marketing literature on the impact of technology on human well-being and the natural environment by illustrating a contextualized view that the impact of a technology depends on the moral values of the creator and the user of this technology.