This post is part of a series featuring interviews with some of the
fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as
"Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds,
interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.
Interested in joining the Berkman Center community? We're currently accepting
fellowship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year. Read more on
our fellowships page.
Berkman fellow, anthropologist, and researcher of Free Software, Open Hardware, and Open Data interviewed in summer 2014 by Berkterns Hannah Offer and Priyanka Suresh
What are you working on currently?
I am currently finishing a dissertation on the globalization of computer hacking. I have been studying Free Software, Open Hardware, and Open Data initiatives in different countries (Japan, Brazil, US, and China) and writing about personal and technical trajectories. I am also working on a book proposal which I hope to finish soon.
What is your background in the study of cyberspace? How did you become interested in Berkman?
I had a somewhat unusual trajectory. Before college, I worked as a sysadmin and as an independent media activist. At some point, I made the decision to dedicate myself entirely to the study of social sciences, which was also a conscious poverty vow! I gave up computing as a professional aspiration, but never stopped practicing it with profound interest.
At some point as an advanced undergrad, I found the opportunity to combine my interest for computing with my training in social sciences through the study of Internet circulation of discourse. At the time, I had a research assistantship to work on discourse analysis and linguistics, so I explored the question of what conceptual tools would be necessary to study digitally-mediated, emergent contexts of sociability. I started to explore free software and Internet activism in Brazil as case studies and found myself completely obsessed with the question of the contemporary relationship between information technologies and politics.
I learned about Berkman because of the work of its fellows and their contribution to the study of the digital commons. When I discovered that there was a group dedicated to the topic of cooperation at Berkman, I decided to apply! it seemed a good opportunity to help advance a topic I did not have the opportunity to engage with in more systematic ways as an anthropologist -- I tended to work 'solo' as most ethnographers do.
What issues do you expect to explore as a Berkman fellow?
I am particularly interested in the cooperation work group at Berkman. My discipline has been very reluctant to advance collaborative forms of scholarship, so I think it will be a good opportunity for me to expand on my theoretical/methodological background and to contribute to the study of emergent forms of collaboration in the context of open source hardware and open data.
In the broader Internet community, how important do you think the study of Anthropology is?
Interestingly enough, anthropological studies of the Internet date back to the early days of commercial internet for most countries (that is, early to mid-1990's). Early contributions from anthropology set the agenda for subsequent research by investigating transformations of labor arrangements, communications media, and forms of mediated sociability.
In the past 10-15 years, we had quite a few book publications and several articles in anthropology on various online communities and engaging with questions of Internet-based cultural dynamics. I still think the discipline has yet to contribute its full potential (which can be seen in other areas, such as the anthropological study of medicine, psychology, linguistics, or material culture). With respect to the Internet as a platform and a new sphere of sociability, anthropologists are well suited to contribute theories and fieldwork research techniques to advance the study of public participation in Internet-based enterprises.
What's the state of scholarship on Open Source Software?
The literature on Free and Open Source software (FOSS) has grown substantially in the past 10 years, but there are still several areas to cover. We are still in serious need of studies of governance, gender imbalance, and the intersections between non- and for-profit enterprises in FOSS communities. Another important gap that we have to cover is the transposition of Free Software logic to other domains of activity, such as hardware design and open data management.
Despite these pending questions, I feel positive overall about what we have learned from the literature so far with respect to the dynamics of collaboration and coordination among distributed development efforts, as well about the pedagogical, economic, and political functions of Free Software.
In relation to the existing literature, I am hoping to contribute studies of Free and Open Source communities outside (but in connection with) the Euro-American context. The "global" in Free and Open Source projects is usually not actually global - that is, it is quite centered on the perspectives and issues of Euro-American developers and companies. Broadly speaking, I am interested in the expansion of the digital commons to other sociocultural contexts.
Are there any projects at the Berkman Center about which you are particularly excited?
In addition to the cooperation group, I also love the idea of being able to work with people from metaLAB and Artisan's Asylum in hardware projects. Most of my research work was conducted at hacker spaces in Japan, China, and the United States, so I am invested in exploring potential intersections between the human sciences, free software, open data, and open source hardware.