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Free software production as critical social practice

Barron, Anne (2013) Free software production as critical social practice. Economy and Society, 42 (4). pp. 597-625. ISSN 0308-5147

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Identification Number: 10.1080/03085147.2013.791510


This paper analyses the phenomenon of free and open source software (FOSS) in the light of Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello's The new spirit of capitalism. It argues that collaborative FOSS production by volunteer software developers is a species of critical social practice in Boltanski and Chiapello's sense: rooted in resistance to capitalist social relations, and yet also a source of values that justify the new routes to profitability associated with contemporary network capitalism. Advanced via collective projects that are sustained by hacker norms and privately legislated ‘copyleft’ law, the FOSS ethos is apparently antithetical to private property-based accumulation. Yet it can be shown to embody the ‘new spirit of capitalism’ in its most distilled form; moreover FOSS developers have instituted new forms of property and new modes of profit creation around software that are in the process of being adapted for use in other economic sectors. Meanwhile, the private law constraints on profit-seeking that have emerged from the FOSS movement are counteracting some of the social pathologies that accompany network capitalism only to consolidate others. The paper concludes by identifying likely bases for a renewal of critique given these realities.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Taylor & Francis
Divisions: Law
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA76 Computer software
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2013 11:58
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:41

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