23C3 - 1.5

23rd Chaos Communication Congress
Who can you trust?

Referenten
Gregers Petersen
Programm
Tag 1
Raum Saal 4
Beginn 18:30
Dauer 01:00
Info
ID 1502
Veranstaltungstyp Vortrag
Track Society
Sprache englisch
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The gift of sharing

A critical approach to the notion of gift economy within the everyday life-world of free and open source software (FOSS).

This paper will dive into this complex questionmark through a comparison between primitive hunter-gatherer societies and the everyday life-world of FOSS. The discussion will focus on the thesis that FOSS practice is based on social sharing and not on processes of exchange. This will entail a negation of the paradigm of economic logic and instead pull a quest for valuable relationships to the forefront of the FOSS sociality.

It seems to be accepted that there exists strong similarities between archaic societies and the present day world of FOSS. At first people might wonder how it is possible to compare the exchange of shell-necklaces with binary code running on a x86 CPU. Then, after explaining the basic principles of gift-giving and reciprocity the same people suddently understand that "we're all" part of a gift economy. When "we all" take part in the use and development of FOSS we're at the same time part in a complex structure of exchange relations. These exchange relations are driven by a coupling of reciprocity with an economic logic which promotes that individual benifit is greater through free giving and subsequent recieving. But, what if this is a wrong and faulty notion? One essential element seems to be missing - when you look closer at the everyday practice - then what is being transacted, were are the transactions, or economical processes of exchange? This paper will dive into this complex questionmark through a comparison between primitive hunter-gatherer societies and the everyday life-world of FOSS. The discussion will focus on the thesis that FOSS practice is based on social sharing and not on processes of exchange. This will entail a negation of the paradigm of economic logic and instead pull a quest for valuable relationships to the forefront of the FOSS sociality.

The distinction drawn between the commonly known and widely accepted notion of gift economy and social sharing needs substantiation. The basic principle of the 'gift' is; that the continuing exchange of gifts underlies all our social structures and interactions. Gifts are in this sense likewise tangible and non-tangible artifacts, spanding from food to symbols and metaphysic concepts - and all have in common that they are culturally produced. The principle itself rests on the simple process that the giving of a gift requires the reciever to reciprocate via giving a gift in return and the giver is required to recieve. This exchange of gifts again changes the positions and transforms the singular situation into an ongoing social process of exchange between 'partners', and systems of reciprocity emerge. Hereby establishing lasting and strong social bond, or valuable relationship, between individuals and groups. But, there is one major problem with the domnant interpretations of the principle of the 'gift', then it is quickly combined into the concept of; gift economy. This might not be a problem if the term is placed solitarily within strict ethnographic analysis of "primitive pre-economic societies", though as soon as it enters modern realms it translates 'gifts' into 'commodities'. Commodities are by nature different from gifts, then they are valued in terms of monetary transactions and not as representations of relationships. The world of FOSS is not directed at creation of commodities, and profit maximization, though as I point out, neither is it clearly an expression of 'gift economy' (in the original sense). A few statements might help clarify this complex:

• FOSS is not a simple hobby • FOSS is not a commodity • FOSS is not a gift

As noted above, a gift is based on a personal relationship, which may exist before and/or after a gift is given. Though for most people involved in FOSS, the code itself is as anonymous as a product can be. The obligation to return the gift (recprocity) is an abstract reality which only emerges when a license is both read and understood in detail. Indicating that the using of FOSS creates no obligations for the individual user - a gift normally creates an obligation to return - then there is seldomly a relationship between the original coder and the present user. Added to this, when asked, the producers of FOSS do not think in terms of 'gifts', if at all then as a highly generalized gift to mankind. This line of thought ends with the conclusion; that calling FOSS a gift is wrong, or faulty - but: What is it then? At this point it becomes inspiring to push ahead into the direct comparison of daily FOSS practice with a model of social organization based on social sharing. Two characteristics of sharing in primitive hunter-gatherer societies (such as amongst Kalahari bushmen etc.) are quickly highligthed. First; this particular form of social organization is based on the demand that you share all resources acquired, fx game-animals killed or crops gathered, to such an extent that there are no personal possessions. Secondly; it is not possible in any way to manifest ownership over one specific resource, then as soon as it is shared (added to the network) the channels of re-distribution are outside of control. Turning the gaze towards basic demands of the GPL license does create a pattern of reflection. GPL requires that all additions or changes in the existing code, in this sense new resources, are shared without demands, and the re-distribution is un-controlled and free. The answer to the above question is slowly emerging, and if the world of FOSS is to be understood in terms of social sharing then the societal critique becomes evident. Then a model of social organization based on mutual aid, voluntary collaboration and egalitarian decision-making challenges the dominant paradigm of economical commodification. In as much as the production of FOSS relies on practical actions (doing) - doing understood as learning and change - it is evident that a confrontation between opposing political cultures is taking place. One part of this conflict requires a continued attention to how the world of FOSS is to be understood, and I believe a critical approach to the notion of gift economy is needed. As Thomas Franks wrote: We might be witnessing the conquest of cool - and as soon as there is money in it we have lost.