I wanted to take a little bit of time today to shamelessly plug my friend and co-author Biella Coleman’s new book Coding Freedom. When the book first came out I wanted to right a full review of it to explain that it is a full-length monograph about hackers, debian developers, anonymous, and other digital phenomena that carefully combines deep, deep ethnographic knowledge with a thoughtful theoretical contribution the literature on commons-based peer production, liberalism, and the trickster figure. Best of all, the book has been released under a creative commons license and can be downloaded and freed for free.
After taking a couple of stabs at it, unfortunately, I found that I just knew Biella too well to write a review that was neutral, or that pretended to neutrality. I kept writing sentences like “Biella RAWKS” and “Biella’s book is radz0r!!!”, which is sort of hard to massage into “this ethnography provides a substantive contribution to the existing literature on liberalism”. So instead I decided to write this ridiculously partisan plug to let you know how rad Biella is and how much her book rawks.
There are a lot of people doing cultural studies, qualitative research, ethnography, etc. on digital culture, virtual worlds, the Internet etc. and, frankly, the quality of much of this work is not very good. Much of the connoisseurship literature written by fans of video games, for instance, is better than academics writing on video games. Biella’s work bucks this trend by bringing a deep, immersive familiarity with the lifeworld she describes. At times, in fact, I think Coding Freedom does not do enough to show off her erudition in this area. Although people (including maybe Biella) will be tempted to see her work as exemplifying something new, non-disciplinary, or cutting edge, in my opinion what really makes her work so good is the way that it epitomizes anthropology’s values of immersion and description. She really knows her stuff. And after you read her book, you will too.