Hacker Practice: Moral Genres and the Cultural Articulation of Liberalism

Coleman, E. Gabriella; Golub, Alex
Anthropological Theory

Past literature tends towards dichotomous representations of computer hackers as either unhealthy young men engaged in bold tournaments of sinister hacking or visionaries whose utopian technological lifestyle has the potential to disrupt the pathologies of capitalism and modernity more generally. In contrast, this article examines the heterogeneous nature of hacker sociality in order to more adequately portray the complex topography of hacker morality and liberalism. We distinguish between and compare three different, though overlapping, moral expressions of hacking in order to theorize liberalism not as it is traditionally framed — as a coherent body of philosophical, economic, and legal thought or a set of normative precepts and doctrines — but as a cultural sensibility that, in practice, is under constant negotiation and reformulation and replete with points of contention. In doing so, we seek to contribute not only to the ethnographic literature on hacking, but to wider theoretical issues regarding the relationship of culture, morality, liberalism and technology in the contemporary world.