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  • The Architecture of Information: Open Source Software and Tactical Poststructuralist Anarchism
  • Michael Truscello (bio)
Abstract

Open Source Software refers to a software development model in which the source code is open for modification and redistribution, unlike proprietary software such as Microsoft Windows, which denies access to the source. The OSS model, in particular the Linux operating system, has garnered much attention from disciplines as diverse as computer science, sociology, economics, law, and political science; however, cultural theory and media studies, especially theories influenced by poststructuralist thought, have yet to address the social impact of Open Source and its potential as a political philosophy in the network society. This paper examines the convergence of poststructuralist anarchism (using works by Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Lebbeus Woods, and Hakim Bey) and Open Source Software via a discursive analysis of Eric Raymond’s Open Source manifesto and ethnographic survey, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” —mt

Introduction

The traces of power in the network society are equally located in the architecture of bricks and mortar and the architecture of information, the discursive practices that constitute the coding of network topologies. This paper examines the discourse of computer programming through Eric Raymond’s ethnographical account of the Open Source software developmental model. Raymond’s Open Source software manifesto, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” (hereafter, “CatB”), the infamous text that inspired Netscape to release the source code for its Web browser in 1998 in an attempt to compete with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, differentiates Open Source software development, which is figured as nonlinear and self-organizing, from Closed Source, which is represented as hierarchical and authoritarian. The Open Source model has been characterized by some as representing a liberatory politics for the information age. Open Source, as represented in the work of Raymond, is a tactical political philosophy whose central architectural metaphors—the bazaar, and its supplementary term, the cathedral—share theoretical homologies with anarchistic poststructuralist statements by Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Lebbeus Woods, and Hakim Bey. The intent of this essay is to examine points of generative convergence between the history and philosophy of software development and certain proponents of poststructuralist thought. In doing so, I wish to initiate a cultural analysis of the historically situated discourse that shapes software development, the texts and practices that inform the coding of the architecture of information. Raymond’s bazaar shares theoretical homologies with Deleuze’s modulations, Woods’s freespaces and heterarchic societies, and Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone, but it is in the figure of the programmer especially that the intersecting discourses of electronic and concrete spaces converge and the inescapably cultural base of technology emerges.1 The bazaar programmer loses the distinction of “developer” and becomes a “co-developer,” dissolving the categorical distinction between those who code and those for whom there is a Code.

The Discourse of Software Engineering

Critiques of the information age and the role of cyberspace in the operation of the surveillance society often ignore the fact that “electronic space is embedded in the larger dynamics organizing society” (Sassen 1). Cyberspace is not a separate space, a virtual room of its own, but an embodied architecture of networks and actors situated in disparate geographical, sociological, psychological, and economic spaces. The very history of the Internet and its cyberspatial enclaves is immersed in ideologically antagonistic contexts: the Internet was ostensibly developed by the U.S. Department of Defense but nurtured by the libertarian leanings of early hacker culture. In its originary moment, then, the Internet was emblematic of both control and freedom, the apotheosis of the surveillance society and the dream of anarchistic autonomy.2 In Saskia Sassen’s re-theorization of electronic space, the increasing commercialization of public networks and centralization of power in private networks have created “cyber-segmentations” that are contrary to the Internet’s supposed dream of decentralization and openness (2). The encroachment of multinational postindustrial capitalism, the context in which cyberspace is “embedded,” produces online inequalities centralized in the offline spaces of power (5).

Sassen believes that “a focus on place and infrastructure in the new global information economy creates a conceptual and practical opening for questions about the embeddedness of electronic space” (5–6). Taking a cue from...

Additional Information

ISSN
1053-1920
Launched on MUSE
2003-07-29
Open Access
No
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