biella in the maelstrom of complexity and confusion

biellaEnid Gabrielle ‘Biella’ Coleman is a graduate student in cultural anthropology at the University of Chicago. Currently she writes her PhD thesis on the ethical dynamics and political implications of the Free and Open Source movement. Her fieldwork, which mainly took place in the San Francisco Bay Area, consisted of going to free software meetings, interviewing programmers, and conducting online research. Besides her homepage she has at least three blogs: Research, Sato Roams, and her newest at digital genres: biella’s blog. The latter carries a recent entry on Hacker Humor: What is It all about?

Much more difficult than I had imagined was the period many anthropologists find awkward for good reason — ‘initial contact.’ […] Soon it became clear that hackers had an uncanny and exhaustive ability to ‘misuse’ most anything and turn it into food for humor. […] Out of this everyday form of technical activity, hackers have constituted an expansive pragmatic practice of instrumental and non-instrumental experimentation and production where the lines between play, exploration, pedagogy, and work are rarely drawn rigidly…. […] Among hackers ingenuity exceeds a means to regiment and guide technological innovation but has taken a substantial life of its own. Hackers have come to value cleverness for the sake of cleverness. And the most crystalline, lucid example of the autonomy of cleverness is hacker humor – a punctuated and sovereign expression of wit.

And then she used a favorite word of mine, for which I am somewhat famous in the MP-community: maelstrom.

Hackers self-reflexively idealize cleverness as the poetic characteristic par excellence that transforms what they spend all of their time doing – creating technology and fixing problems in a great maelstrom of complexity and confusion – into an activity of shared pleasure and a crucial vehicle for expressing creativity, constituting individuality, and designating the social boundaries of hacking.

All this strikes me to be very valid for the realm of game-modding, too. Alas, biella, hurry up, finish and publish your dissertation, so that I can prey on it big time. And those of you anthropologists interested in ‘ICTs in the field’, do not miss biella’s The Politics of Open Source Adoption, NGO’s in the Developing World.
via entry at digital genres