Resisting Alienated Labour Through Hacking: The Case of Free and Open Source Software

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Ramsay, Mark
Marx , Labour , Hackers , Alienation , Resistance , FOSS
Despite the growing dependence we have developed upon an array of computer-based technologies, technology in and of itself is not the cause of alienated conditions of labour. Rather, it is the cultural context within which it is used that allows different forms of alienated labour to form. This thesis explores this argument by utilizing E. Gabriella Coleman’s ethnography of the contributors to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). This group’s activities challenge aspects of a capitalist political economy, particularly in regards to Karl Marx’s notion of alienated labour. FOSS contributors engage in a practice that integrates aspects of play and work, while embodying a continual creative process that remains within their individual control. To explore this further, this project examines a variety of classical and FOSS-related material and offers a description of Marx’s theories and analyses of the labour process, an introduction and overview of hackers and FOSS, and an evaluation of FOSS’s ability to resist domination. Reviewing these themes reinforces the dynamic and unstable elements of capitalism, promoting the centrality of human beings in producing social change. It becomes apparent that while FOSS is often coopted by a vast range of capitalist interests, the practice of FOSS contributors create an environment that prevents aspects of alienation from taking hold, allowing individuals to realize the potential and capabilities of their labour power. Their activities bear a striking resemblance to C. Wright Mills’ craft labour ideal, while emphasizing Bourdieu’s notion of skholè in the building of one’s skills and abilities. Their promotion of the open access ethos reinforces the need to draw attention to the degrees of access to tools and information necessary for this growth.
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