Three Ethical Moments in Debian
77 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2005
Date Written: September 15, 2005
This article is a detailed examination of ethical cultivation as it occurs in the Debian project, whose volunteers produce a non-commercial distribution of the GNU/Linux OS. Thus far, much of the literature on free and open source software (F/OSS) production has been heavily focused on the question of motivation or incentive mechanisms and has tended to ignore how hacker valuations, motivations, and commitments are transformed by the lived experiences that unfold in F/OSS projects and institutions that are mediated through project charters and organizational procedures. In this anthropological piece, I draw heavily on the work of the legal theorist Robert Cover (1992), who examines the ways in which "jurigenisis," the production and stabilization of inhabited normative and legal meanings, requires an ongoing and sometimes conflicting narrative interpretation of codified textual norms. I specify his model in examining how three different ethical moments are the grounds for the adoption, transformation, and re-evaluation of a set of values related to accountability, freedom, transparency, openness, and mutual aid: conflict-free enculturation, legal pedagogy and production, and lastly crisis.
Keywords: free software, ethics, Debian, hackers, liberalism, trust in virtuality
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