A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be revisiting the conception of “Open Source,” and today is the day. I think that a lot of the contention that surrounds this subject (and that has always surrounded it) is rooted in traditional loci of power and in the same sort of common sense construct that authenticity is rooted in. Now, as an Art Historian and a lover of history in general, I also find myself quite attracted to tradition, until that tradition becomes the proverbial shackle around the neck of progression. Of course, we might debate what constitutes “progression,” but that’s not really my goal for today. Instead I would like to interrogate the common sense structures and power/knowledge paradigms that Gramsci and Foucault (respectively) would recognize in our current institutional setting, and then contextualize Open Source in terms of a Kuhnian paradigm shift.
There are several concerns with the Open Source movement, but there are only two that I will focus on here: economics and traditions of academia. The first is somewhat self-explanatory; if things are free then the whole world might come crashing down one dollar bill at a time. Perhaps this is true; I’m not an economist. However, at some people seem to think that this won’t be the case. The second point is problematic on two fronts: first, in the way that knowledge is constructed; second, in the way that tradition functions in academic fields at large but in the humanities in particular.
If we begin by considering the interplay between power and knowledge, taking Foucault as our champion, we might recognize that institutional authority plays a large part in the construction of new knowledge (both in the methods of production and in the questions considered) and the production of new persons in places of authority. When taken in tandem with staunch traditionalism advocated in some scholarly fields (like the humanities) then we can see how it reinforces what Gramsci would constitute as hegemony, obscured via common sense, wherein traditional sensibilities of those in power are always attempting to co-opt the subaltern concerns in order to maintain their hegemonic hold. So, in effect, the academic standard is begrudgingly moving towards digitization, if not towards genuine Open Source.
That said, if we look to Kuhn’s models for normal and new science and his concept of the paradigm shift, we will recognize that as the last vestiges of the traditional paradigm begin to fade from the debate (either via retiring or death) then voices clamoring for a new paradigm (Open Source information in this case, and if not complete Open Source, then at least a new standard for academia and the production of knowledge) will begin to overpower those left looking back at the bygone era. The same can be said for the economic constructions that we currently view as being intrinsic to human nature on some fundamental level. Perhaps the rise of the digital era will help us to construct a new world view on things like economics (beyond things like capitalism or communism or socialism) or the traditional forms that academic scholarship takes or what audiences it typically speaks to.