Sunday, July 13, 2008

Chris Kelty's Two Bits

Anthropologist Christopher Kelty, who specializes in science and technology studies, has now announced the release of the online version of his scholarly book about the Free Software movement, Two Bits! You can buy the book in its traditional print format, which is out from Duke University Press, but Kelty also encourages you to interact with the text in the following ways.

I'm sending this note to let all of you know that the book is available, in print, in pdf form, and in "CommentPress" form for discussion on the site. Go forth and spread my message of love. I would appreciate any and all forms of promotion, reviewing, name-dropping, subliminal placement, blogging, flagging, digging, burying, mixing, remixing, facebooking, wikifying etc. If anyone can get a copy on the Space Shuttle, that would be extra cool.

But wait, there's more...

Since starting the publication process, I have discussed with Duke University Press ideas of "modulating" the book, which is a key aspect of the text itself, viz. that the practices of free software are "good to think with" and provide us with ways to change how our own scholarship is written, read, published, circulated and built upon. The idea is related to those "remixing" experiments like Larry Lessig's Code V2 wiki ( and Yochai Benkler's wiki version of his book (, The Wealth of Networks.
However, my primary interest here is just what it might mean to "re-mix scholarship" --and beyond just my own book.

Ergo, I am herewith soliciting possible "modulations" to be included on a related (and unpolished) website: . What are modulations? To begin with, it might mean articles, essays, or student papers and projects that make use of, take issue with, or expand on Two Bits itself--any work on free software, public spheres and recursive publics, history of software, software studies, geeks and hackers, intellectual property, liberalism and technology, free culture and so on-- especially those works that track the spread and movement of these issues beyond the domain of free software.

But it isn't all about me: I'm looking for stuff in our collective conceptual space. Articles, published or not, and ideas for projects that come from any of the fields we play in: science studies, anthropology, media studies, history, sociology, legal studies, information studies, philosophy etc. I have a few works lined up that I will try to highlight over the next few months, and hopefully that will give people some ideas about where to take it... but at this point I'm open to all ideas.

I think of this project as blurring the lines between an online repository, a scholarly journal and edited volume. More than a blog, less than a large-scale publishing project, and with the blessing of Duke University press and HASTAC, slightly more official and legitimate than a list of links. An on-line volume of work, edited by me, with uneven periodicity and hopefully some occasional vibrant discussion.

Why? In short because I think we need to start experimenting with the limits of scholarly collaboration--beyond the journal and the edited volume, but also beyond the blog and the wiki. There is nothing technically new about what I'm proposing here (yet); what's new is that I want scholars and scholarly presses to re-think publication and circulation, and to use the example of Free Software to do so: free, permanent, legitimate, alive. I worry, perhaps too much, that our scholarship is increasingly unfree, unstable, unauthorized and unread, and I certainly don't think it's because our work is boring or bad. We suffer from too much focus on getting published, and not enough focus on getting circulated. I think we need to change that.

I will edit (curate is probably a better word here, I don't intend to do any copyediting, or necessarily ), but I dream of exanding this role to others. I will maintain it for now, but I dream of making it into an "official" publication somehow--perhaps just something in a catalog, perhaps an experiment in print-on-demand. It will be technically simple (a table of contents, an RSS feed and comment threads) but I dream of exploring new tools and new platforms... for now, however, it's an experiment. Thanks for thinking on it.

Kelty also does work on political deliberation, specifically on voting machines, and has questioned why new technologies don't make new computational approaches to the winners and losers of politics possible.

Of course, Kelty isn't the only one pursuing this kind of open publishing/comments welcome model with the blessings of an academic press. Virtualpolitik pals Siva Vaidhyanathan, McKenzie Wark, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin are all experimenting with new ways to do scholarly publishing.

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