Open Source Software: A New Mertonian Ethos?

In Anton Vedder (ed.), Ethics and the Internet. Intersentia (2001)
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Hacker communities of the 1970s and 1980s developed a quite characteristic work ethos. Its norms are explored and shown to be quite similar to those which Robert Merton suggested govern academic life: communism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized scepticism. In the 1990s the Internet multiplied the scale of these communities, allowing them to create successful software programs like Linux and Apache. After renaming themselves the `open source software' movement, with an emphasis on software quality, they succeeded in gaining corporate interest. As one of the main results, their `open' practices have entered industrial software production. The resulting clash of cultures, between the more academic CUDOS norms and their corporate counterparts, is discussed and assessed. In all, the article shows that software practices are a fascinating seedbed for the genesis of work ethics of various kinds, depending on their societal context.



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Paul B. De Laat
University of Groningen

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