“There’s No Rules. It’s Hackathon.”: Negotiating Commitment in a Context of Volatile Sociality

Jones, Graham M.; Semel, Beth; Le, Audrey
Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

How do people negotiate commitments to engaging in joint activity while at the same time anticipating and managing the inherent risks of collaboration? We explore this question through the ethnographic example of a hackathon, a collaborative software-design competition. We focus specifically on the earliest and, in many ways, most uncertain phase of collaboration, in which commitment and activity simultaneously emerge: team formation. We analyze mercurial allegiances in terms of a technoliberal participation ideology closely associated with the mores of the digital economy, which paradoxically emphasizes intensive project-based collaboration but limited interpersonal responsibility. We examine the verbal and nonverbal resources (such as stance-taking, politeness, reported speech, humor, and gesture) that prospective teammates use to modulate expressions of commitment, and the ways in which they pursue self-interested projects while maintaining social relatedness in order to accomplish joint activity in a context of social volatility.