Dr. Coleman’s (!) Debian Dissertation

Biella Coleman recently finished her dissertation in Anthropology after studying Free Software communities for most of a decade. It’s a hefty tome and I’ll admit that I have only read the chapter on Debian but I am definitely impressed. As many of my favorite arcade games would say, "CONGRATULATION!" Only one.

I think that a certain amount of "outside perspective" from people who are trained to observe, compare, and analyze social interactions can be an incredibly healthy and useful thing for a community. Since I’m interested in the social and political aspects of free software development, I have read more than my share of work from sociologists, anthropologists, and economists studying free software. I can say with whatever authority that gives me that Biella has one of the best understandings of Free Software of any "outsider" studying the field.

Of particular interest to me is her chapter on the cultivation of ethics within Debian. I think Debian folks should check it out if they are interested and have the time.

My only warnings to Debianistas are about the length and the language. This is a paper written to impress anthropologists. In particular, it’s written to impress a committee of anthropologists who got to decide whether Biella would get a doctorate. Basically, this means jargon, references, and a style of writing that is perhaps only totally transparent to other anthropologists. That said, Biella has put effort into making it "translucent" to the rest of us and has mostly succeeded but folks should still be warned. It’s definitely worth a read.