Guerrillas in our midst: An anthropologist studies the hacker movement — and goes native.

From Wired magazine:

When you’re starting off as an anthropologist, you aim is to explore a subculture your peers have yet to uncover, spending years living with the locals and learning their ways.

That’s what Gabriella Coleman did. She went to San Francisco and lived with the hackers.

Coleman, an anthropologist who teaches at McGill University, spent three years living in the Bay Area, studying the community that builds the Debian Linux open source operating system and other hackers — i.e., people who pride themselves on finding new ways to reinvent software. More recently, she’s been peeling away the onion that is the Anonymous movement, a group that hacks as a means of protest — and mischief.

When she moved to San Francisco, she volunteered with the Electronic Frontier Foundation — she believed, correctly, that having an address would make people more willing to talk to her — and started making the scene. She talked free software over Chinese food at the Bay Area Linux User Group’s monthly meetings upstairs at San Francisco’s Four Seas Restaurant. She marched with geeks demanding the release of Adobe eBooks hacker Dmitry Sklyarov. She learned the culture inside-out.

Now, she’s written a book on her experiences: Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. It’s a scholarly work of anthropology that examines the question: What does it mean to be a hacker?

There’s a brief interview appended to the article, and that’s fun reading:

I was just kind of astounded by that at some level. And astounded by the way in which on the one hand the hacker world was the place where the culture of civil liberties was on fire. And that’s something that anyone can relate to because people beyond the hacker world know about free speech and privacy. And on the other hand, there was this aesthetic world that was intensely focused on itself and was very difficult to translate to the general public.

And so that kind of melding of the deep pleasures of hacking and the cultures of civil liberties were something that I thought was quite anthropological.

How can you tell if the author is the Real Deal? All the assholes come out to shoot spitballs at her in the comments:

Only thing cooler than a computer chick is a skater chick! Does she skate?

I’m a hard sell on books these days, but this one is going on my wish list.

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