Free and open-source software as (non-) liberatory technology

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Free and open-source software (FOSS) explicitly ties openly licensed software technology with the concept of freedom. The Free Software Foundation’s original definition (Stallman, 2002) emphasises ‘freedom’ as individual autonomy and open-source licensing has a complex history embedded within libertarian and capitalist forms of ‘freedom’ that mask a range of inequalities.

In this paper, I problematise FOSS’ conception of freedom arguing that open-source licensing’s focus on the freedom of the individual prevents it from acting as liberatory technology. FOSS’ focus on an existentialist and individualist conception of freedom structurally deemphasises the importance of the collective particularly when embedded within cultural structures that allow widespread sexual misconduct including from Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement (Blue, 2016; Brodkin, 2021), stark inequalities in distribution of labour (Chełkowski et al., 2016), and structural racism and misogyny (Wynne, 2021; Terrell et al., 2017). As with open access licensing (Sanders & Bowie, 2019), the application of open licenses is often treated as a panacea for liberatory technology but I argue that FOSS licensing is not enough to liberate users of technology without accompanying changes in culture to engage in dismantling white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

To illustrate this, I gesture towards some radical liberatory practices for open-source software that reintroduce the collective and offer the potential to free the technology from its capitalist paradigm.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCentre for Postdigital Cultures 2022 Annual Conference
PublisherCentre for Postdigital Cultures
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2022
EventCentre for Postdigital Cultures 2022 Annual Conference: Technology Justice: The Theories and Practices of Freedom - Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Jun 202217 Jun 2022


ConferenceCentre for Postdigital Cultures 2022 Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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