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Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking
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Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  261 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Who are computer hackers? What is free software? And what does the emergence of a community dedicated to the production of free and open source software--and to hacking as a technical, aesthetic, and moral project--reveal about the values of contemporary liberalism? Exploring the rise and political significance of the free and open source software (F/OSS) movement in the U ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published December 2nd 2012 by Princeton University Press (first published November 25th 2012)
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Erhardt Graeff
Jan 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
A carefully argued book written by a savvy anthropologist. The main thrust of the book is the assertion that free software hackers or programmers practice a unique form of liberal politics through their "free" labor in creating a common or public good in the form of free software (she focuses on the Debian operating system), and in stewarding the legal freedom that users and contributors enjoy by using such software. Biella argues that several aspects of this technical and philosophical or ethic ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Makes me proud to call myself a hacker, and a part of Debian.
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A USA-based anthropological look at the software hacker subculture of 10-15 years ago. Focussing on F/OSS projects, identifying and documenting social interactions, and challenges like licencing. Talks about the narrow politics (and protests) of such groups, and briefly looks at the effect they have had in the greater culture. The in-depth look at the Debian project was my favourite section.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
me encanta ella <3
Zara Rahman
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Coding Freedom" is written in a more academic style than I was expecting, but maintains a strong and engaging "storytelling" vibe throughout. The book covered more issues and topics than I had imagined it would; from an anthropological analysis of the typical hacker (which felt oddly like reading a biography of friends of mine!) - to a thorough analysis of Debian, and the F/OSS movement. A particular highlight for me was a section towards the end of the book, which looked at the effects the ope ...more
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
An excellent deep dive into the world of free software in general and Debian developers particular. No question about it, this book is an anthropological look, and not a "pop science" approach, but if you can hang with the academic approach it pays off. Whether you're deeply immersed in the world of hackers, on the periphery but looking for a good explanation of what's going on (as I was), or completely outside of the scene, this book is a readable and well-cited resource to learn more. ...more
Kara Babcock
I’ve been “online” for almost eleven years now. I started learning to write HTML, which was my first foray into anything resembling programming, almost immediately after I became interested in using the Internet. My introduction to free/open-source software (F/OSS) was gradual, so it’s hard to pinpoint a particular project or ethos that inculcated me into that hacker culture. For the longest time I rolled my own code religiously, either oblivious to or uninterested in the existence of blog softw ...more
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I expected this to be something of a history book, and I was very wrong. As a matter of fact, the historic overview here is quite weak; the author uses a very limited set of examples and doesn't dive too deep into stories. If you are looking for trivia and tidbits, go elsewhere.

The book describes hacker culture and briefly mentions its relation to ethics and morality, but mostly focuses on its conflict with intellectual property law. Portraying F/OSS as a living, thriving counter-example to comm
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Coleman, an anthropologist, essentially explores the world and politics of free and open source software (F/OSS), with a focus on Debian. It's fascinating to read her analysis as an outsider, though my one issue, which is definitely a personal pet-peeve, is that she refers to F/OSS contributers as "hackers". While they are, Coleman makes it seem that all hackers are involved in F/OSS, and that that's all they do. That aside, this is a wonderful work on the history and ideology of the F/OSS movem ...more
Dana Larose
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, 2020, nonfiction
An ethnography of hackers, particularly in the late 90s and early 00s. Pretty interesting historical read about hacker and Free Software culture, albeit with a fairly dry and academic tone. Would love a follow up covering the post 2005 era, social media, etc
Chris Davison
While the discussion and history of free software and the debian process is inspirational, the writing is a bit tedious and exhausting to get through. It is written like a social sciences academic paper, with social science rather than technical jargon detracting from the overall message.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: internet
Changed the way I think about software and coding
Daniel Povolny
Apr 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Great book, with great examples.
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was not what I was expecting, which was entirely my own fault because I assumed that everyone interested in the same thing as me is interested in it in the same way that I am. So I was expecting more theory and less story. But, as it turns out, Coleman's ethnography of hackers was so interesting in its own right that, despite not quite getting what I expected out of it, I enjoyed what I got.
There were particular elements that spoke to me, though, especially her focus on the relationsh
Sara Watson
Jan 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Coleman provides a nuanced take on the ideology and tensions embedded in the F/OSS movement. Her ethnography is compelling, particularly as a means of capturing a specific time and place as social structures, software, and embedded politics uncovered themselves, often not explicitly as political acts (see her discussion of explicit disavowal of politics). Coleman's details made real concepts of how code is speech, or code is law, in ways that I had not fully appreciated before, namely by capturi ...more
Chad Kohalyk
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebook, working
Although this book is a PhD dissertation and contains some anthropology technical jargon, Coleman's tone is casual, making it surprisingly accessible.

I learned a lot about the F/OSS movement and being surrounded by developers all day (and pretending to be one myself) I think she perfectly captured the culture. Through this book I also learned more about my own political stance, coming to open source from a political background rather than from pure development.

The particular dichotomies she desc
jess b
Nov 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: plr-research
Awesome read. Not only a good overview of the F/OSS movement at large, but also does a great job of couching it in the larger conversation about free speech, intellectual property, individualism, etc. Also good for igniting the warm fuzzies about working on F/OSS, in case that's been missing from your life lately. ...more
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Provided a good narrative on the F/OSS (Free/Open Source Software) movements, the varying players/perspectives, and its relevance to our society. I gained a lot from reading this book (I bought it after listening to an interview on Law and Disorder Radio)! For more on Gabriella Coleman. ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Nice look at Debian hacker community and the free code movement in general from an anthropologist who studied them "in the field." Also interesting look at conflicts within the movement and differing interpretations of freedom. ...more
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very accessible and very engagingly written, particularly for a scholarly book, with clearly communicated insights. Highly recommended for anyone interested in getting an enlightened socio-cultural perspective on FOSS, particularly with regards to its political and moral dimensions.
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fun, accessible, interesting. Can't say enough. Plus it helped to explain some of the culture in my local makerspace... A run-down of the issues at stake when it comes to open-source computing. Also, look for the "Anoynmous" documentary where Colman has interesting things to say in interviews. ...more
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting look at free/open source software and the projects surrounding it (specifically Debian).
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Oops, finished this a while ago. Sort of interesting, but also kinda dry. I don't remember. Too much unexamined libertarian BS, but that's personal bias. ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and free book about FOSS story and movements, characters and stories behind the stories. Well researched, it'll become a classic. ...more
Nov 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Probably more a book for ethnologist than one meant for casual readers. Thus it need quite a steep investment to really get the best of it...
Kingsborough Library
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Gabriella (Biella) Coleman holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, she researches, writes, and teaches on computer hackers and digital activism. Her first book on Free Software, “Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking” has been published with Princeton University Press. It is available for purchase and ...more

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