Decoding Liberation: On the political implications of free software

Decoding Liberation is a new book that is creating a lot of buzz in different mailing lists. It is written by Samir Chopra and Scott D. Dexter, both of the City University of New York. Because of the obligatory huge price tag on academic books, it has generated a huge discussion about the need to ‘open source’ the book itself.

There is lots of info about the book, and the discussion it generates, here at

Here is how the authors describe their intentions:

“In this book we take free software to be a liberatory enterprise in several dimensions. While the freedom to inspect source code is most commonly associated with FOSS, of more interest to us are the political, artistic, and scientific freedoms it brings in its wake. The title of this book reflects this promise: in a world that is increasingly encoded, our free software carries much potential for liberation. Granted, claims about technology and freedom are nothing new; much of the early hype about the Internet was rhetoric of this kind. But what is important about the recurrence of such hyperbolic enthusiasm is that it is clearly articulated evidence of a desire for technology to live up to its potential as a liberatory force.

With this book, the investigation of free software becomes broader than those conducted by lawyers, economists, businessmen, and cultural theorists: FOSS carries many philosophical implications that must be carefully explored and explicated. FOSS, most importantly, focuses attention on that often misunderstood creature: software. To understand it as mere machine instructions, to ignore its creative potential and it power to enforce political and social control, is to indulge in a problematic blindness.

We do not contend that “knowledge [or information] just wants to be free,” that this is a fait accompli. But we do want to understand what this freedom might be and how we might go about achieving it. While the potential of free software is often alluded to, it is not fully understood. This book is partly an expression of a utopian hope, partly the expression of the fear that a liberatory moment is slipping away.”

Here’s a review by Gabriella Coleman.

1 Comment Decoding Liberation: On the political implications of free software

  1. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Book of the Week: Decoding Liberation (1): the distribution of work and beautiful code

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