Free Software: The Culture and Politics of Open Source

Eugene Lang College Lib Arts: Code as a Lib Art

Liberal Arts
Undergraduate Course
Degree Students
Free Software
Spring 2023
Taught By: Ahad Ali
Section: A

CRN: 11975

Credits: 4

As software and digital machinery continue to mediate ever more aspects of human activity and the natural world, the majority of computer code driving these circulations remains hidden from public view: protected by proprietary software regimes and “black boxed” systems. This course will examine the practices and politics of “opening” these “closed” systems by studying free, libre, and open source software (FLOSS): a movement, ethos, set of practices, and international network of communities all committed to the idea that the source code which undergirds our digital lives should be freely accessible to all who wish to view it, to read and modify liberally. The FLOSS movement challenges norms of intellectual property, copyright, and patent law, and yet, many corporations today embrace open source software in their business models. We will examine how a set of practices seemingly oriented towards a politics of resistance, critique, and anti-commercialism can nonetheless be taken up by profit-oriented endeavor. Considering examples including the Firefox web browser, Apache web server, Linux, LibreOffice, and GNU project, we will look at the history of FLOSS, its cultural, technical, and legal significance, and the evolution of its ethos of freedom as rooted in liberal ideology. We’ll pay close attention to ways that open source practices are intertwined with meritocracy and exclusionary gatekeeping, often with gender and racial biases. Course material will include videos, podcasts, and readings from both popular and academic sources including work by Friedrich Kittler, Gabriella Coleman, McKenzie Wark, and Mar Hicks. This seminar will also include an “ethnography of code” and short Python coding exercises conducted in the “Open Source Way” as a collaborative community of practice. No prior coding experience is required. Students are expected to bring laptops for in-class coding exercises.

College: Eugene Lang College Lib Arts (LC)

Department: Code as a Lib Art (LCOD)

Campus: New York City (GV)

Course Format: Seminar (R)

Modality: In-Person

Max Enrollment: 18

Add/Drop Deadline: February 5, 2023 (Sunday)

Online Withdrawal Deadline: April 16, 2023 (Sunday)

Seats Available: Yes

Status: Closed*

* Status information is updated every few minutes. The status of this course may have changed since the last update. Open seats may have restrictions that will prevent some students from registering. Updated: 11:04pm EST 2/7/2023

Meeting Info:
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Times: 10:00am - 11:40am
Building: 6 East 16th Street
Room: 705
Date Range: 1/23/2023 - 5/15/2023