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Managing the bazaar: commercialization and peripheral participation in mature, community-led free/open source software projects

Berdou, Evangelia (2007) Managing the bazaar: commercialization and peripheral participation in mature, community-led free/open source software projects. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The thesis investigates two fundamental dynamics of participation and collaboration in mature, community-led Free/Open Source (F/OS) software projects - commercialization and peripheral participation. The aim of the thesis is to examine whether the power relations that underlie the F/OS model of development are indicative of a new form of power relations supported by ICTs. Theoretically, the thesis is located within the Communities of Practice (CoP) literature and it draws upon Michel Foucault's ideas about the historical and relational character of power. It also mobilizes, to a lesser extent, Erving Goffman's notion of `face-work'. This framework supports a methodology that questions the rationality of how F/OS is organized and examines the relations between employed coders and volunteers, experienced and inexperienced coders, and programmers and nonprogrammers. The thesis examines discursive and structural dimensions of collaboration and employs quantitative and qualitative methods. Structural characteristics are considered in the light of arguments about embeddedness. The thesis contributes insights into how the gift economy is embedded in the exchange economy and the role of peripheral contributors. The analysis indicates that community-integrated paid developers have a key role in project development, maintaining the infrastructure aspects of the code base. The analysis suggests that programming and non-programming contributors are distinct in their make-up, priorities and rhythms of participation, and that learning plays an important role in controlling access. The results show that volunteers are important drivers of peripheral activities, such as translation and documentation. The term `autonomous peripherality' is used to capture the unique characteristics of these activities. These findings support the argument that centrality and peripherality are associated with the division of labour, which, in turn, is associated with employment relations and frameworks of institutional support. The thesis shows how the tensions produced by commercialization and peripheral participation are interwoven with values of meritocracy, ritual and strategic enactment of the idea of community as well as with tools and techniques developed to address the emergence of a set of problems specific to management and governance. These are characterized as `technologies of communities'. It is argued that the emerging topology of F/OS participation, seen as a `relational meshwork', is indicative of a redefinition of the relationship between sociality and economic production within mature, community-led F/OS projects.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2007 Evangelia Berdou
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA76 Computer software
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Collections > LSE History of Thought theses
Supervisor: Mansell, Robin

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