This is a research blog for the project "Charisma and Code -- The Political Economy of Free/Open Software" (See www..../Charismacode). We will write here the two of us who do fieldwork, Lars Risan and Christian Lundestad. The idea is to share some of our informal sesearch notes.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
DebConf05, Third day, 12. July, 2005
I ended up speaking about (US) Americans the other day. The next day was much more in the name of the global. The sessions was introduced by an Indian, and one of the morning sessions was about Free software in the third world. “The third world”, of course, is an ethnocentric generalization by some others, but this talk was not. We got to hear some very specific stories about how people try to “push” Free Software in Latin America.
One challenge, just to take an example that I remember, is the highly political position of Free Software. Some political parties in Latin America, notably left-winged parties, are eager to promote Free Software. Its easy to give them our support, and their case is obviously good: Cheap software and local control of the innovations is clearly what Latin America – as many other countries – need. The problem, however, is that changing governments, political instability and the rhetorical need to produce difference means that the opposition tend to be very much “against” Free Software once one party has declared its passionate support to it. So, as the case have been in Mexico, Governmental support tend to come and go every third year. This makes the necessary long term development of locally adapted Free Software very difficult.
But back to DebConf. It is an international conference, and this was more visible the second day. The Germans are as visible as the Americans, and there are Japanese, a few Chinese, some Latin Americans and Europeans of all kinds. I want to talk about the heterogeneity of the gathering, but not particularly about the national or ethnic heterogeneity. There is something about heterogeneity in relation to uniformity and knowledge.
I'll talk about dress code, not because I think it is very important, but because it is not entirely unimportant either. There is a liberalness about dress code that I have not seen many other places. Punks or Gothic heavy rockers may be very unconventionally dressed. And many hackers share their unconventionality: But punks and heavy rockers do not diverge much internally. There is nothing as predictable as a heavy rocker. Their dress code tolerates nothing.
There are a few “heavy rockers-light” here, a few “cowboy”-kind of Americans, a bit more “hippi-light” people, and some almost boringly conventional people. No dresses, a lot of T-shirts – it's still hot summer. Almost only males. I sat next to some male, mid-30ish people at the hotel the other night. They were probably attending something at a Nokia site (not far away) or something. Talking about some small portable PC-kind of gadget, looking like a large PDA (running Linux!). They where looking casual but smart, and I understood that there are engineers elsewhere that look very different from this untidy bunch here at the “hack lab”. By the way, it's midnight and still there are something like 30 people working with their PCs here, jacked in to a provisionally mess of Internet-wires. Here is a picture:
So what is the point I am getting at? It is this, and it is late and I have to go to bed, but this: The hacker community is a “do-ocracy”, a meritocracy. That is how they describe themselves, and they are not much wrong. They are “inside” because of what they know, can and master, not so much because of what they look like. They are what they master.
There is something about gender here, because they are almost all males. And if its a strict meritocracy, then it may be that female exclusion is merely a matter of lack of devotion to skills. A women at “Debian Women” I talked to objected to this, and she will give talk in a couple of days. I'll return to the issue. Good night.