DGV05: free software as an anthropological field of research

by Frauke Lehmann

Free software (also Open Source) is a comparatively uncommon subject of research for sociocultural anthropology. Those ‘into’ free software constitute a social formation which almost exclusively is to be located on the Internet. The individual members are dispersed all over the globe, their shared core interest is the production of the post-industrial commodity software. But nevertheless this field promises interesting and enriching knowledge for sociocultural anthropology. The latter in turn is able to contribute crucially to the understanding of said field.

When looking at free software’s fabric of property, the organisation of particular projects, the economic system, and the creation of identity,
every now and again social formations are observed which can be grasped by known anthropological concepts. For instance the project organisation can be understood by concepts like democracy, chiefdom, Big Man, and non-hierarchical systems. Concerning the economical system one encounters familiar phenomena, too: gaining reputation by giving, the just marginal importance of money, or even its complete absence.

On the other hand sociocultural anthropology itself can tremendously gain by dealing with this field. Analysing the mentioned concepts—mostly to be found in non-industrial societies—in a new context may well lead to an advancement of theory.

Abstract of a presentation to be held at the workshop ‘cyberanthropology’ during the Conference of the German Anthropological Association (GAA aka DGV) – Halle / Saale, 4th – 7th October 2005.
translation of the official German abstract by zeph—put the blame on me