[iDC] Introduction, Gabriella Coleman

Gabriella Coleman biella at nyu.edu
Sun Jul 6 13:57:45 UTC 2008


I have been on the list for a number of months now but have yet to 
introduce myself. My name is Gabriella Coleman (many know me as Biella) 
and I am currently an assistant professor in the Dept of Media, Culture, 
and Communication at NYU. I was trained as a cultural anthropologist and 
I have done the bulk of my research on the ethics of free and open 
source software with a focus on Debian and battles related to the DMCA 
among other topics. I also do research on computer hacking more 
generally as well patient activism and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange 
among chronically ill patients on the Internet.

Theoretically, I am interested modes of counter-expertise and in the 
ways in which the production and use of digital media are implicated in 
the transformation, critique, and expression of political ideologies 
related to liberalism and to a lesser extent anarchism.

Below I am pasting an article, which reflects some of my current 
ethnographic and theoretical interests, that is forthcoming in 
Anthropological Theory this fall and was co-authored with a colleague. 
This is not the final final version  (it was a disaster pasting from a 
PDF so I used an older version) but I think this will suffice.

All best,

Hacker Practice: Moral Genres and The Cultural Articulation of Liberalism

Gabriella Coleman (Department of Media, Culture, Communication, NYU) and 
Alex Golub (Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii)

(Forthcoming, Anthropological Theory, September 2008)

“There is no one hacker ethic. Everyone has his own. To say that we all 
think that same way is preposterous.” Acid Phreak (Is Computer Hacking a 
Crime? Harpers Magazine 1990: 48).

	In 1984 Steven Levy published what is now considered to be the classic 
account of the golden age of hacking, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer 
Revolution. Among a few generations of MIT hackers, Levy found a truly 
unique and “daring symbiosis between man and machine” (Levy 1984: 32) in 
which hackers elevated the desire to tinker, learn, and create technical 
beauty above all other goals.  While Levy defined the hacker ethic in 
terms of the hacker commitment to information freedom and meritocracy as 
well as their mistrust of authority, and their firm belief that 
computers can be the basis for beauty and a better world (1984: 39-46), 
more recent portrayals of hackers reverse this moral valuation. In the 
United States today, for instance, hackers are portrayed as young men 
whose pathological addiction to the Internet leads to elaborate 
deceptions, obsessive quests for knowledge, and bold tournaments of 
sinister computer break-ins (cf. Shimomura and Markoff 1996; Slatalla 
and Quittner 1995; Sandberg 1994; Borsook 2001; Schwartau 2000). More 
recent studies have also reacted against negative stereotypes of hackers 
by emphasizing instead the original positive connotation of hacking as 
inquisitive tinkering (Levy 1984; Turkle 1984); highlighting the hacker 
ethic’s ability to emancipate its practitioners from the iron cage of 
late modernity and capitalism (Nissen 1998; Himanen 2001; Wark 2004); 
and otherwise recuperating hacking’s tarnished reputation (Nissenbaum 
2004; Thomas 2002; Best 2003; Hannemyr 1999).
	The literature on hackers, thus, tends to collapse hacking into a moral 
binary in which hackers are either lauded or denounced. This tendency 
threatens to obscure more than it reveals about the cultural 
significance of computer hacking. In this article we attempt to move 
beyond this dichotomous view and argue that in order to understand the 
ethical diversity as well as the cultural significance of hacking, we 
must examine how hacker morality coalesces in to multiple genres and 
converges with broader prevailing political and cultural processes, such 
as those of liberalism.
	Although often overlooked, it does not take much to understand the 
centrality of liberal ideas to hackers. Even a quick gloss of the 
language hackers frequently invoke to describe themselves or formulate 
ethical claims—freedom, free speech, privacy, the individual, 
meritocracy—discloses liberal imprints and concerns. “We believe in 
freedom of speech, the right to explore and learn by doing,” explains 
one hacker editorial “and the tremendous power of the individual” (2600, 
1998-1999: 4). Indeed, because of the ways hackers so visibly yet also 
so variably negotiate, transform, and critique a wide ambit of liberal 
precepts in the context of their everyday cultural world, the practices 
and ethics of computer hacking afford an exceptional entryway for 
conceptualizing liberalism as a cultural sensibility with diverse and 
sometimes conflicting strands. In this article, we distinguish between 
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 closely 
wedded to what Charles Taylor has called the “expressive self” (1989) 
that in practice is under constant negotiation and reformulation and 
replete with points of contention.
	This paper begins by first briefly conceptualizing liberalism in 
explicitly anthropological terms.  It then moves into a detailed 
comparison of three modes of hacker practice—cryptofreedom, free and 
open source software, and the hacker underground—to demonstrate how, in 
the words of Acid Phreak quoted above that “[t]here is no one hacker 
ethic.” However, contrary to his stipulation that ethics are simply a 
matter of individual choice, we will present three moral genres of 
hacking and the ways hackers reformulate and critique a range of liberal 
values in the context of their everyday lives. The third section 
examines how these hacker moral idioms reveal tensions in the liberal 
tradition even as they all engage and express various facets of the 
liberal expressive self.
Anthropologies of Liberalism and Hacker Moral Genres
   	Recently, a rich body of scholarship has significantly expanded the 
study of liberalism beyond political theory by attending to the 
interpenetration between liberal ideals and cultural formations. By 
examining how ideals of freedom influence the built environment (Joyce 
2003), senses of selfhood and ethical techniques (Rose 1999), theories 
of communication, speech, and publics (Habermas 1989; Taylor 2004; 
Warner 2002; Peters 2005; Fish 1994, 1997), and theories of rights, 
tolerance, and identity (Passavant 2002; Brown 1995, 2006; Marcuse 
1965), these scholars have taken the study of liberalism down important 
new analytical paths. For all their cogency, however, these works tend 
to overlook how liberalism is manifest in everyday practice and how 
these moral orders affect the subjectivities of individuals.
	In contrast to most cultural and critical studies of liberalism, we 
seek a more anthropological focus on the role of practice and diversity 
both among hackers and within the liberal tradition. The anthropological 
strand we draw on has incisively studied liberalism in the making by 
attending to the complex intersection between law, society, and 
multicultural politics. For example, in examining how the law behaves as 
a privileged site for defining and establishing rights-based frameworks 
and national constitutions (cf. Comaroff and Comaroff 2003; Povinelli 
2002; Collier, Maurer, and Suarez-Navaz 1995; Coombe 1998) these works 
not only demonstrate the social locations where liberal values are 
defined and adopted, but also reveal the significant cultural and legal 
impasses that riddle the instantiation of liberal governance. However, 
while most of the anthropological literature on liberalism has stayed 
primarily within the purview of multiculturalism or the postcolonial 
societies (See Kelty 2005, 2008; Pfaffenberger 1996; Rapp  1999 for 
important exceptions), here we attempt to expand this frame of analysis. 
To enrich an anthropological account of liberalism in our own societies 
and in the context of the production of digital media, we must open the 
lens of investigation wider to examine how liberal ideals are woven into 
the cultural fabric of everyday life in new, often unexpected contexts, 
such as those of computer hacking.
  	 To be more specific, we take liberalism to embrace several, 
sometimes conflicting, historical and present day moral and political 
sensibilities concerned with a cluster of commitments: protecting 
property and civil liberties, promoting individual autonomy and 
tolerance, securing a free press, ruling through limited government and 
universal law, and preserving a commitment to equal opportunity and 
meritocracy. These are realized institutionally and culturally in 
various locations and cultural contexts such as the institutions of 
higher education, market policies set by transnational institutions, the 
press, and computer hacking. Because liberal ideals always take root in 
a variety of cultural and institutional contexts and through the action 
and reactions of social groups, liberal commitments and critiques of 
liberalism are not only made tangibly manifest in these various contexts 
but are the very sites for liberalism’s heterogeneous articulation and 
historical transformation.
	Regarding hacking and liberalism, hackers discuss freedom and liberty 
constantly. Indeed, elaborating a sense of what freedom is and what it 
means to be free constitutes moral discourse for hackers (cf. Kelty 
2005, 2008; Coleman 2004) and shapes what we presented earlier as the 
hacker ethic. However, while this definition of the hacker ethic may 
accurately reference a general set of moral commitments still in 
existence today, the actual articulation of this ethos, we argue, has 
taken on multiple, though coherent forms. From the global production of 
free and open source software to the transgressive pranks of underground 
hacking, hackers reveal their ethical commitments through an array of 
practices and idioms.  While these idioms are not reducible to liberal 
concerns, they are certainly in close conversation with them. Some of 
their moral visions and technical implementations politically proffer 
critique by privileging certain liberal principles, for example in the 
case of free software, valuing free speech over intellectual property 
law.  Others speak to the limits of liberal legal regimes, for example, 
when hackers break the law.
	To conceptualize the substantive links between liberalism and the 
diversity of hacker ethical positions, we find it helpful to draw on M.M 
Bakhtin’s theories of speech genres (1986) and heteroglossia (1981). 
Bakhtin emphasizes that the nature of speech is “determined by the 
specific nature of the particular sphere of communication” (1986:  60), 
and that “each sphere of activity contains an entire repertoire of 
speech genres, or relatively stable types or genres of talk” (1986: 60). 
These genres bespeak types and positions of social actors (scientist, 
worker, lover, administrator, youth, artist, mother, academic) and can 
be meaningfully evaluated only by referencing the social norms and 
material and institutional context in which they arose.
	Local speech communities of particular social groups, professions, and 
generations—what  Bakhtin calls heteroglossia—express “specific points 
of view on the world” (1981: 291-2). Even while heteroglossia reveal the 
plurality of social life (1981: 292), local speech forms do not exist 
completely independent of each other. They cross cut each other in ways 
that range from the complementary to the contradictory, but always 
dialogically (1981: 293). Subjectivity, on this account, is not made 
multiple because of a postmodern condition (though certain conditions 
may accentuate multiplicity) but because people routinely engage in 
multiple, overlapping spheres of action in everyday life.
  Conceptualizing hacker ethics not as a set of unitary and stable 
commitments but instead, as a constellation of shifting genres similar 
to speech genres provides a powerful heuristic device. It enables us to 
analyze hacker ethical codes as replete with overlapping but, 
nonetheless, variable and sometimes contradictory content, styles, and 
political effects, without reifying these genres as discrete 
communities. In other words, hackers move between genres, changing moral 
registers the way a multilingual speaker switches from one language to 
	Finally, theorizing hacker ethical diversity is analytically 
significant not simply because it provides a richer account of computer 
hacking but because it can help us reconceptualize the tradition of 
liberalism as a heteroglossic one, under constant negotiation, 
reformation, and critique through the very vicissitudes of everyday 
life. Thus hacking, so often marginalized or misunderstood in popular 
culture as a sub-cultural group separate from or diametrically opposed 
to mainstream society, is in fact one crucial location whereby the 
fractured and cultural character of liberalism is given new life and 
visibility in the digital age.
	By simultaneously differentiating what is normally lumped together 
simply as the “hacker ethic” into multiple genres and theorizing 
liberalism as a sensibility revealed variably in the context of computer 
hacking, in the next two sections we are able to demonstrate two related 
points. First, we demonstrate how liberalism works as one important 
context by which hackers make sense of their selves and their world as 
well as justify the tools they produce. But because of the different, 
sometimes conflicting, moral positions that are evident among hackers, 
we can also discuss the diversity and tensions within both computer 
hacking and liberalism. In keeping with Bakhtin's notion of 
heteroglossia, below we draw on the ethnographic and historical record 
to present canonical moments, events, technologies, and figures out of 
which three hacker genres have developed.
Hacker Ethical Practice: Three Examples
Crypto-Freedom and the Politics of Technology
	Since the late 1970s one kind of hacker practice, crypto-freedom, has 
taken liberal concerns with freedom and self-reliance and combined them 
with advances in cryptography to develop technically informed 
understandings of privacy. The origins of crypto-freedom can be traced 
back to 1975, when two cryptographers, Whitfield Diffie and Martin 
Hellman developed public-key cryptography and created a revolution in 
encryption science for public-key encryption allowed its users to send 
information securely over an insecure channel. It is notable that they 
developed this technology at a research university (MIT) rather than a 
government security agency. As a result, the public could potentially 
now use esoteric cryptographic technology previously available only to 
government intelligence agencies. Nevertheless, in the 1970s and 1980s 
the largest growth in the use of encryption technologies came in the 
corporate sphere, where companies used encryption to secure their 
ever-growing reliance on computers for financial transactions. Patents 
on algorithms ensured corporate monopolies, and robust encryption was 
not being developed for personal computers (Singh 2000; Levy 1999).
	This was the case until 1991, when Phil Zimmerman, an amateur 
cryptographer, “freed” encryption by developing a method that could be 
used on personal computers. The result was not only a robust piece of 
technology but a risky act of civil dissent, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), 
a project whose widespread adoption was, at the time, uncertain at best. 
As Zimmerman was putting the final touches on PGP, he heard about a 
pending bill in the Senate to ban cryptography and quickly released his 
program to the world, with the hope that its popularity would keep the 
state from outlawing cryptography. Despite the risks, Zimmerman made it 
his personal mission to put the possibility of privacy via encryption 
into the hands of anyone who cared to use it. Zimmerman created PGP and 
encouraged its use by distributing it to friends and colleagues, one of 
whom posted it on a Usenet discussion group. It was this posting that 
made PGP available to the world and prompted the FBI’s many years of 
investigation of Zimmerman.  His acts of civil disobedience flew in the 
face of both intellectual property and national security laws.  The 
state perceived his creation of this piece of encryption technology as a 
violation of disclosure and transfer of cryptographic software to a 
foreigner, opening Zimmerman up to many possible years in jail. In the 
end, the Federal Government decided not to prosecute Mr. Zimmerman 
(without saying why they dropped the investigation). Within this 
tumultuous legal context, Zimmerman formulated an explanation of his 
motivations which is perhaps one of the first clear formulations of the 
ethic of crypto-freedom:
If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy. Intelligence 
agencies have good access to good cryptographic technology. So do the 
big arms and drug traffickers. So do defense contractors, oil companies, 
and other corporate giants. But ordinary people and grass roots 
political organizations mostly have not had access to affordable 
'military grade' public-key cryptographic technology. Until now. PGP 
empowers people to take privacy into their own hand. There's a growing 
social need for it. That's why I wrote it (Zimmerman 1999: 184).

In this statement, Zimmerman clearly articulates liberal values of 
individual autonomy and freedom from government interference in the 
register of cryptography. Although PGP marked a dramatic watershed in 
the formation of this moral genre, it was only the most visible sign of 
crypto-freedom's growth.
	 In 1992, the genre came to maturity with the creation of the 
Cypherpunks, a loose volunteer association of hackers, programmers, and 
civil rights advocates united through a mailing list and in-person 
meetings held in Northern California. Cypherpunks work on new privacy 
technologies and oppose laws which curtailed individual privacy. They 
see themselves as the vanguard of encryption science and their politics 
is a liberal one, but culturally specified because it is rooted in a 
techno-political response to threats to privacy: “Cypherpunks write 
code. They know someone has to write code to defend privacy and since 
it's their privacy, they are going to write it. . .  Cypherpunks know 
that software can't be destroyed. Cypherpunks know that a widely 
dispersed system can't be shut down” (Hughes 1993).
  	Their confidence in their ability to craft technological solutions to 
societal problems is wedded to an ethical sensibility that affirms the 
sacrosanct nature of individual privacy. Like Zimmerman before them, 
Cypherpunks thus articulate their vision of hacking in a moral idiom 
that invokes conceptions of individual autonomy, self-reliance, and 
self-control and applies these liberal concepts to the world of digital 
information. In doing so they represent a manifestation of a more 
general American liberal sensibility that distrusts institutionalized 
authority. This strain of individual self-reliance was identified early 
in American history by de Tocqueville when he wrote about the peculiarly 
American character of independence and democracy:
The citizen of the United States is taught from infancy to rely upon his 
own exertions in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life; 
he looks upon the social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, 
and he claims its assistance only when he is unable to do without it (de 
Tocqueville, 1840).

  Cypherpunks have reworked, in a new technological idiom, general 
cultural concerns similar to those that drove de Tocqueville's gentleman 
	Nevertheless, Cypherpunks’ pessimism regarding the intrusive nature of 
government and corporations is neither politically Left nor Right—its 
suspicion of the industrial-military complex falls as easily within the 
libertarian Right as it does a certain anti-military Left-pacifism.  And 
while some of its most adept practitioners are often libertarian 
loyalists who hold a faith in free-market capitalism, the loose 
association of Cypherpunks profess no outward political affiliation. As 
a result, cryto-freedom practices, groups, and events include people 
with divergent political viewpoints and Cypherpunks are quite clear 
about this: “Some of us are anarcho-capitalist radicals. . . others of 
us are staid Republicans, and still others are Wobblies and other 
assorted leftists.”1 Nonetheless, many do not understand this concern 
with privacy as radically novel; it is for them an affirmation and 
continuation of principles deeply held in their culture and expressed in 
the national constitution.
Free Software and the Politics of Inversion
	While Whitfield Diffie's tenure at MIT was instrumental to his creation 
of public-key cryptography, other members of the hacking community there 
later developed a very different take on security. In one era while 
Diffie was concerned with making multi-user computer systems at MIT 
secure (Levy 1999), Stallman, in a future time, was trying to open them 
up. Stallman thought the best password was no password. When 
administrators eventually made passwords mandatory at MIT, Richard 
Stallman responded with a message that appeared every time a user logged 
on with a password: “I see you chose the password [such and such]. I 
suggest that you switch to the password 'carriage return.' It is much 
easier to type, and also it stands up to the principle that there should 
be no password” (Levy 1984: 417).
	Stallman was not necessarily against personal privacy, but when it came 
to computers and knowledge, he believed that the presence of passwords 
and copyrighted software at MIT was a corruption of the open access to 
information on which he had cut his teeth.  Stallman treated various 
barriers designed to impede the creation and spread of knowledge as 
fundamentally unethical—because he saw them as mechanisms to privatize 
information in order to allow individuals to profit at the expense of 
the community. In 1984, he founded the Free Software Foundation in order 
to further the values of reciprocity, pedagogy, and scientific openness 
he had learned among the MIT hackers and to halt the intrusion of 
copyrights and patents in software.  Stallman was a hacker, and so he 
realized his liberal ideals in a technological idiom and he linked his 
political goals to one of the most popular operating systems among the 
technical community, UNIX.  Although the UNIX operating system had 
become popular in university departments the world over (Lions 1977; 
Salus 1994; Kelty 2008), it was increasingly inaccessible due to 
licensing fees. Thus, Stallman set out to write a free version of UNIX, 
which he called GNU, in order to ensure its eternal availability.
	 While Zimmerman engaged in an act of civil disobedience and violated 
the law by writing PGP, Stallman stayed within the law and used it to 
his own ends. In order to assure his software would remain free in 
future times, Stallman released it under a license he created, the GNU 
Public License (GPL). Under this license, Stallman retained copyright in 
his code but distributed it freely providing all of its users did so as 
well. The result was an inversion of traditional copyright law. Through 
the GPL Stallman used copyright not to enforce a monopoly of his right 
as an author, but to ensure that software was unable to be monopolized. 
The result was the creation of a “safe zone” of publicly available code 
that could not be privatized by corporate interests, a sort of open 
space in which Stallman's dream hacker community could work in freedom.
	While Cypherpunks embraced a notion of negative freedom, Stallman’s GPL 
derived from a more positive notion of liberty. Through the avenue of 
licensing and manifestos, Stallman sought to create the technological 
basis out of which a flourishing hacker community could develop. Instead 
of deploying a negative understanding of freedom as “absolute” freedom 
from coercion, he employed, and thus instantiated, a liberal version of 
freedom that invoked the virtues of sharing and pedagogy.
	Thus, although differently configured, Free Software still draws on the 
same underlying liberal culture as crypto-freedom. By the mid 1990s, 
Richard Stallman and many other enthusiasts also adopted the liberal 
terminology of free speech and it is now ubiquitous to hear some variant 
of the following phrase among developers to describe the nature of 
freedom: “Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand 
the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free 
beer.”2 This conception of free speech also questions the very purpose 
of copyright law.  By inverting the power of copyright law to create 
freely available speech rather than the monopoly on expression intended 
by the Constitution, Stallman planted the seeds of what would become an 
explosive site of innovation in later years.
	While Stallman's impact on software and hacking was the result of a 
carefully premeditated plan, Linus Torvalds' creation of the Linux 
operating system was a much more happenstance affair (Torvalds and 
Diamond 2001).  In 1991, Torvalds released the source code of his hobby 
project on a mailing list. What no one could have foreseen was that this 
move would prompt the first successful long-distance, large-scale 
software collaboration and his project—a free UNIX kernel—was combined 
with Stallman's GNU software to create what is today known as GNU/Linux. 
By the mid to late 1990s, advances in information technology facilitated 
the emergence of free software as a full-blown, technological 
“movement.”  Now volunteers from across the globe collaborate on 
thousands of software projects.
	By 1998, the free software movement had spawned a variation that came 
to be known as “open source software” (OSS). OSS differs from free 
software in its message, a semantic revaluation tactically used to 
attract investors.  Advocates of OSS such as Eric Raymond argued that 
open source is a superior “development model” for making software, in 
contrast to traditional approaches that used copyrights and patents. 
OSS, Raymond argued, was not only the right thing to do; it was also the 
more efficient thing to do (1999).  OSS's ethical virtues were made 
manifest in the fact that the enjoyment of programming and the 
reputation one derived from doing it well were simply better incentives 
to produce good software than a salary. Raymond's arguments and 
evangelism have proved effective—today, corporations spend millions of 
dollars developing and advertising OSS.
Less strongly utopian than free software, OSS is still part of a moral 
genre whose primary concern is information access.  But while Stallman 
envisioned a community maintained through shared norms and values, OSS 
harkens back to thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment such as 
Mandeville (1995) who argue that public good comes from private vice 
(cf. Smith 1985).  On this account, a truly efficient market, like a 
truly efficient code, would benefit everyone, and the most likely way to 
get the latter was to insist that the former was in place.
	While the political and economic ideology of free and open source 
software (F/OSS) focuses on liberal values of freedom and efficiency, 
the lived experience of F/OSS programmers exemplifies different aspects 
of the liberal tradition. F/OSS hackers often consider themselves to be 
artists, and see coding as a type of “diligent craftsmanship” in which 
they imbue software with a unique element of their creative selves. 
Software developers construe their technical activity as inherently 
valuable avenues for highly creative forms of expression, even if they 
openly admit to various types of worldly and technical constraints.  One 
otherwise shy free software developer, when asked during an ethnographic 
interview to explain the essence of programming, replied with no 
hesitation by equating the experience of writing a good piece of 
software to the joy and awe of making and exploding homemade fireworks:
It is artistic. It is an art really. I once saw a quote. . [sic] It was 
about someone who has a hobby of creating fireworks.  So [in the quote] 
he was explaining to someone what he did: “It is 3 or 4 months of hard 
work and a lot of thinking and then one night it all goes up in one 
beautiful multi-colored fire ball.”  But of course you can't imagine 
what that is like.  And the other person replies: “I do, I am software 
developer.”  I feel the same way.  So, really, it is art.
The result is artisanship in the service of creating useful knowledge, 
the hallmark of Jeffersonian liberal science (Boorstin 1948), combined 
with a romantic drive for self-creative expression and self-cultivation 
typical of Millian notions of liberty (Halliday 1979; Donner 1991; Starr 
	At the same time, it is important to realize that F/OSS developers do 
not see themselves as “romantic authors” in the sense, now well-known in 
the literature, of people entitled to copyright their works because of 
the way those works uniquely embody their artistic subjectivity (Rose 
1993; Woodmansee 1994).  The lived experience of F/OSS hacking is more 
populist and communal, and at the core of F/OSS practice is an awareness 
of connection with a community of developers who make all code possible: 
the source code of others is easily available for use or reuse; source 
code repositories, Internet Relay Chat, mailing lists, bug tracking 
software, and other technical applications facilitate all work; and all 
the while, your fellow coders are at hand, ready to help when 
difficulties arise and willing to serve as an attentive audience to view 
and admire the finished product.
The Underground and the Politics of Transgression
  	The final form of hacker practice we will examine here is that of the 
hacker undergound, which asserts that ideals for information access and 
privacy are in fact simply that, ideals, which can actually never be 
achieved in an absolute or total sense.  Their moral conventions and 
practices bespeak a Nietzschian notion of power and pleasure, and 
especially a critique of liberalism (Nietzsche 1967). In his time, 
Nietzsche criticized John Mill’s utilitarianism as a secular incarnation 
of a debased Christian morality whose emphasis on social good and 
equality sought to enervate the power of the individual.  So too does 
the hacker underground eschew liberal solutions and celebrate and 
perform the eternal return of power.  And just as Nietzsche’s attempt to 
elevate the creative powers of the individual never fully succeeded in 
definitively escaping the orbit of the Enlightenment’s liberal notions, 
so too does the practice of the hacker underground represent merely a 
radicalization, rather than a complete break from, the moral claims of 
	Quite distinct from the politics of inversion evident in free software 
legal techniques, the hacker underground enacts its political critique 
primarily through transgression. This group envisions hacking as a 
constant arms race between those with the knowledge and power to erect 
barriers and those with the equal power, knowledge, and especially 
desire, to disarm them.  Bruce Sterling, in his masterful account of the 
hacker underground, humorously conveys this dialectic of power in his 
sardonic “advice” to young aspiring hackers:
In my opinion, any teenager enthralled by computers, fascinated by the 
ins and outs of computer security, and attracted to the lure of 
specialized forms of knowledge and power would do well to forget all 
about hacking and set his (or her) sights on becoming a fed.  Feds can 
trump hackers at almost every single thing hackers do, including 
gathering intelligence, undercover disguise, trashing, phone-tapping, 
building dossiers, networking, and infiltrating computer systems (1993: 
By dismissing the supposedly more moral ends of law enforcement agencies 
and focusing on the means that they employ, the hacker underground 
attempts to defy institutions of consolidated power such as the CIA, 
FBI, and AT&T, even as it identifies with their desires for control and 
power.  The underground seeks to remind those in power that there are 
individuals in an unknown, cavernous “out-there” who can and always will 
unsettle, even if only temporarily, the purported absolute power of “the 
establishment.”  The morality encoded in this form of hacker practice 
thus values the process of piercing through locks, disarming security, 
accessing the inaccessible, eliminating barriers, and reaching the pot 
of gold behind the locked door—knowing full well that barriers will 
always come back in some form.
	One of their central and stylized modes of social play, social 
engineering, distills the aesthetics of eating forbidden fruit into the 
human art of the short con. Instead of piercing through a technological 
barricade, humans become the target of play, duped in the search for 
information.  This social engineering is a re-inscription of technical 
control in the realm of human relations.  Deceived into handing over 
some prized piece of data, humans are seen to be just as crackable and 
manipulable as computers.
	The historical roots of the underground are in the 1960s, and 
particularly in the Yippies (Youth International Party), who used 
outlandishly clever and transgressive antics to protest the Vietnam War. 
  Two hackers,  “Al Bell” and  “Tom Edison” took over the Yippie 
newsletter TAP (Technical Assistance Program) and transformed it into a 
manual detailing telephony—a genre of technical writing, which exists 
today in the form of hacker zines such as Phrack and 2600 (Thomas 2002). 
Shortly thereafter the now-famous hackers and pranksters, such as 
Captain Crunch and Steven Wozniak, got their hands on a small blue box 
that emitted a 2600-Hz tone and used it to tap into the phone system, 
and “phone phreaking” exploded.
	Today the hacker underground boasts groups of warez brokers, hackers, 
and phone phreakers who are all united by a sequestered and secret 
lifestyle. Personal identity is no more than a handle—the hacker 
nickname—and hacker gatherings are by invitation only as the following 
description in “A  Day In The Life Of A Warez Broker” from Phrack 
Magazine makes clear:
The ELiTE Community is very secretive, and very secure.  No one is
let in, and once you're in, you're not expected to leave.  There is a
lot of trust built in The Community.  The only way to get into The ELiTE
Community is to know someone who is willing to vouch for you.
Without someone to speak of your credibility, you will get no where.
Once you are in and have established yourself, you can pretty much speak
for yourself, or get a sysop to refer you.3

Thus, this genre differs from the social organization of F/OSS projects 
that pride themselves in upholding structures of accessibility and 
transparency. Underground affairs take place in secret with secured 
network connections.  And not surprisingly, this genre of hacker 
practice draws on a sense of individual autonomy and romantic 
self-expression similar, though far more accentuated, to what we have 
seen in F/OSS.
	Underground hackers divulge their identities through acts of technical 
bravado and thrive on illicit activities. Thus, while underground 
hackers go to great lengths to protect their personal identities, they 
expose their inner thoughts and feelings by publishing them online in 
hundreds of deeply entertaining files.  Known only as “textfiles,” these 
documents leave trails of tasty morsels to offer those on the outside a 
glimpse of their hacker interiority:
He knows he will never get caught. He knows that, in reality, the 
ever-increasing complaints of software manufacturers, and programmers 
whose wealth and luxury are threatened by his actions, are but a 
reflection on their inability to effectively protect their treasures. He 
knows that if one man can do it, another man can undo it. He knows that 
computers have rules that must be obeyed, and that all bootable disks 
must start the same way. That is enough of a crack for him to get through.4

These anonymous autobiographical tales evince the “pleasures of being 
watched” and demonstrate the ways in which hacker practice erupts “at 
the interface between surveillance and the evasion of surveillance” 
(Hebdige 1997: 403).  They are manifestations of a romantic subjectivity 
expressing itself, exposing bankrupt dreams of technocracy derived from 
the Enlightenment.  The manifestos, textiles, and actions bespeak the 
thrill of breaking rules and gaining access to forbidden knowledge not 
necessarily to make the world a better place or secure civil liberties, 
but for its own pleasurable sake. The hackers who transgress receive 
overwhelming public and media attention, for in their ability to play 
with legal boundaries, the hacker “personifies an existence beyond the 
law, an existence at once awesome, sublime, and awful” (Comaroff and 
Comaroff 2004: 807).
	Despite confident proclamations of untouchability, the history of this 
genre is littered with notorious computer crime cases.  In fact, the 
constant specter of apprehension and the high-profile persecution of 
famous hackers have provided the greatest impetus for the underground to 
organize politically (Thomas 2002; Sterling 1993), most notably the 
legal battles involving Knight Lightning's alleged theft of AT&T E911 
documents in the early 1990s and the government's draconian prosecution 
of one of the most famous American hackers of all time, Kevin Mitnick. 
Many in the hacker community followed the news of Knight Lightning's 
ordeal and the string of hacker crackdowns of the early 1990s, but since 
they occurred before the widespread use of the Internet, protest 
mobilization was minimal.
	This was not to be the case with Kevin Mitnick.  After his fifth arrest 
for a computer-related crime in 1989, for one count of computer fraud 
and one count of possessing illegal long-distance access codes, he was 
able to get an unusual plea bargain where he agreed to one year in 
prison and six months in a counseling program for his computer 
“addiction” and was forbidden from touching a computer.  After a warrant 
was put out for his arrest in 1992 for illegally accessing a phone 
company computer and breaking his parole by associating with one of the 
people with he had originally been arrested with in 1981, Mitnick went 
missing.  He was on the FBI's “Most Wanted” list for two years before 
they were able to track him down and arrest him in 1995.  He was held 
without bail for over two years before sentencing (thus earning the 
distinction of being the longest pre-trial detainee in American history 
prior to 9/11) and in solitary confinement for eight months, supposedly 
“in order to prevent a massive nuclear strike from being initiated by me 
via a prison payphone.”5 The paranoia and misunderstanding of technology 
led officials to believe that Mitnick could launch a deadly nuclear 
strike by whistling into the jail pay phone and thus phreaking his way 
into NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command Center. 
Although he was unquestionably guilty of many crimes (though he never 
gained anything financially from his hacks, such as selling proprietary 
software to competing firms), hackers felt the extreme nature of his 
punishment was part of a government attempt to send a warning message to 
the wider community.  “I was the guy pinned up on the cross,” Kevin 
Mitnick told a packed room of hackers a couple of years after his 
release “to deter you from hacking.”6  At the time of his arrest, they 
did not take this in stride, and responded vigorously by launching a 
“Free Kevin” campaign.
	Starting in the mid-1990s and continuing until Mitnick's release in 
January 2002, the Free Kevin movement schooled the hacker underground in 
new political idioms and activities.  The hacker underground 
supplemented its politics of transgression with traditional forms of 
political protest that were more public and organized than what had come 
before. They marched in the streets, wrote editorials, made 
documentaries, and began attending the enormously popular “hacker con” 
HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth)—a convention founded in 1994 for 
publicizing Mitnick's ordeal.  In July of 2004, Mitnick, free at last 
and allowed to use computers again, attended HOPE in NYC for the first 
time.  He delivered his humorous and enticing keynote address to an 
overflowing crowd of over 2000 hackers, who listened, enraptured, to the 
man who had commanded their political attention for over a decade. 
Despite the fact that lawyers and journalists had used Mitnick's case to 
give hackers a bad name, Mitnick still used the term with pride.
	He offered story after story about his clever pranks of hacking from 
childhood on:  “I think I was born as a hacker because at ten I was 
fascinated with magic. . . I wanted a bite of the forbidden fruit.” 
Even as a kid, his victims were a diverse lot: his homeroom teacher, the 
phone company, and even the LA Rapid Transit District.  After he bought 
the same punch hole device used by bus drivers for punching transfers, 
he adopted the persona of Robin Hood, spending hours riding the entire 
bus network, punching his own pirated transfers to give to customers. 
He found transfer stubs while dumpster diving, another time honored 
hacker practice for finding information that was especially popular 
before the advent of paper shredding.  His exploits were always centered 
on the circumvention of rules and barriers, technical or human.  A 
consuming passion for evasion, gaining access, and exploration would 
result in many triumphant exploits admired by peers and vilified by the 
FBI, which he said showed “no sense of humor” when he tried to crack 
jokes during his arrests.  In speaking of his passionate desire to taste 
forbidden fruit, Mitnick enunciated an ethic of which he was the 
paradigmatic figure, and whose organizing power was made manifest in the 
very occasion of speaking itself.
Hacker Moral Genres, Expressive Selfhood, and Liberal Points of Tension
There are, then, a wide variety of hacker practices that have been 
assembled out of a diverse collection of exemplary personalities, 
institutions, political techniques, critical events, and technologies. 
These practices are not guided by a singular hacker ethic but are 
instead rooted in and reveal a number of distinct but intersecting 
genres of ethical practice. It is evident that some hackers engage 
freely in illicit file trading, while others do not.  Some hackers are 
oblivious to the legal and technical esoterica of cryptography while 
others see this as constitutive of their hacker identity.  Many hackers 
are committed to the ethical philosophy of free software, while others 
feel they have a personal right to deploy intellectual property as they 
see fit.  Some hackers announce with pride their illegal exploits, and 
others only admit to them reluctantly, a little embarrassed by their 
foray into the underground.  Clearly the material presented here 
gainsays any attempt to describe hacker practice and ethics as a unitary 
or homogeneous phenomenon.
	Despite this fact, however, it seems clear that important similarities 
underlie this welter of practice. The themes raised again and again by 
hackers—free speech, meritocracy, privacy, the power of the 
individual—suggest that we can read the hacker material as a cultural 
case in which long-standing liberal ideals are reworked in the context 
of interaction with technical systems to create a diverse but related 
set of expressions concerning selfhood, property, privacy, labor, and 
creativity.  In this section, we argue that there is a dialectical 
relationship between particular technocultural forms and more general 
cultural structures which leads hackers to variably implement, 
reformulate, and critique liberal social institutions, legal 
formulations, and ethical precepts even as hacker practice, and 
especially their senses of expressive selfhood, are precipitated out of 
	Studies of American ideals of freedom and liberty underline the 
existence of “romantic individualism” —and its correlate “utilitararian 
individualism”  —(Bellah et. al., 1996) even as American conceptions of 
freedom have shifted throughout time (Foner 1999; Starr 2007). Without 
reifying an impossibly broad category –“American Culture”— we argue that 
it is possible to see the varieties of hacker genres of practice as 
selective and partial realizations of this model. More broadly, we might 
combine these approaches with that of Charles Taylor, who has argued 
that Western society in the past two hundred years has witnessed the 
emergence of what he calls the “expressive self.”  Taylor claims that 
this notion of subjectivity (which is both a folk notion and, as the 
cultural background for the Western academy, also an academic model) 
rests on three main points.  First, that humans are capable of 
exteriorizing their inner selves through creative action; second, that 
this action is a deeply moral act; and third, that it is not enough 
simply for the subject to act, but that its acts must be recognized by 
others for them to be truly expressive of itself (Taylor 1989).
	All three of these genres represent different ways in which liberal 
concerns surrounding the expressive self and its social context are 
distinctly and variably realized.  Although all of them capture how 
interactions with technical systems are moments and places under which 
hacker subjectivity might be expressed, they also do so in different 
ways and thus, at the same time, reveal points of tension within 
liberalism.  Whether it be the self which creates the computer code that 
secures it from the threat of surveillance, the self whose sharing with 
the community overrides intellectual property regimes and enables 
greater recognition within it, or the self which seeks to surpass and 
dominate technical systems in an act of Nietzschean self expression, all 
three of these genres rely heavily on the idea that coding is about the 
programmer, and that the action of coding is moral; and yet each example 
also makes tensions in liberalism starkly visible to wider publics.
	One classical and recurring question in the liberal tradition, for 
instance, is the extent to which expansive property rights are 
coterminous with human freedom. Here the propriety of the self and its 
autonomy is tied to the idea that freedom is contiguous with and 
inseparable from an individual's freedom to make contracts, sell their 
labor, and secure their property (Gray 2000; Hayek 1978; Epstein 2003). 
  In the last two decades this idea has taken its most accentuated 
expression in neoliberal beliefs and institutions, such as the WTO 
(Harvey 2005), where corporate firms argue that stringent new 
intellectual property restrictions are indispensable for healthy 
economic growth and thus for a “free society” (Braithwaite and Drahos 
2002; Sell 2003).
	The ethnographic record above suggests that hacker practice continues 
to revolve around the way the self is realized and expressed through 
property rights, but in a way that is altered by the technocultural core 
of hacker practice and the wider context of neoliberal property 
discourses to which it has responded and in some cases, critiqued. Most 
notably, free and open source software licenses enable new regimes in 
which the autonomy of the self is still connected with the use and 
enjoyment of property, but in these regimes the property is intellectual 
and the use and enjoyment is enabled through sharing, rather than 
through a form of “possessive individualism” (Macpherson 1962). Free and 
open source software practice thus not only critiques current regimes of 
copyright and patents but also provides an alternative template for the 
rearticulation of long-standing ideals of liberal freedom, such as free 
speech, but in a technocultural mode distinct from previous property 
regimes (Weber 2005; Kelty 2005, 2008; Coleman 2004; Chopra and Dexter 
  	Equally, in the case of the hacker underground, hackers realize 
themselves in the context of property relations. But in this case the 
self is constituted and displayed through the violation of laws which, 
through enclosure, prevent hackers access to code, software systems, and 
intellectual property that they desire.  Assertions of self in this form 
of practice come from the violation of property rights and the 
usurpation of control and use of hacked material, tales of which 
routinely circulate among hackers.  Thus, anonymous tales of hacking 
indicate the need for recognition, which Taylor’s model suggests many 
hackers deploy to complete their own expressive activity.  In this genre 
of hacker practice, we see how the violation of norms must be both 
surreptitious and recognized, and that their politics of transgression 
also provides a critique of the sanctity of liberal creeds and law.
	This issue of recognition leads to another major concern of the 
expressive self as described by Taylor, the uneasy fit between a world 
view that emphasizes the creative action of the individual and yet 
requires validation and recognition from a wider community.  For Richard 
Stallman and many free software developers, for example, the self has 
the right not only to know but to be known, and the free circulation of 
information about and by the hacker is figured not as an intrusion but 
part of a reciprocal recognition of identities in a larger community in 
which individuation is both recognized and transcended.  Code functions 
here to simultaneously affirm and erase the boundaries between 
individuals.  Raymond, and open source developers, on the other hand, 
follows another path in which the invisible hand—the mysterious emergent 
coordination of action—prevents their being any conflict to one’s self 
interest that code be shared. Similarly, the hacker underground demands 
recognition for its exploits—even anonymous recognition—because 
transgression is its method of self-assertion.
	This tension between individualism and collectivism opens a window into 
another long-standing liberal tension between what Isaiah Berlin has 
identified as the difference between positive and negative freedom. 
Many authors have emphasized that individual freedom and self-autonomy 
are central concerns of liberalism (Macpherson 1962; Dumont 1986); 
nonetheless, the grounding of this freedom is often understood in quite 
different terms.  More libertarian thinkers (Epstein 2003; Hayek 1978) 
have conceptualized liberal freedom “negatively” as an absence of 
coercion.  Thus Wendy Brown rightly notes that liberal freedom often 
operates “as a relational and contextual practice that takes shape in 
opposition to whatever is locally and ideologically conceived as 
unfreedom” (1995: 6).
Other strains of liberalism in political theory, among hackers, and 
other Internet enthusiasts, however, focus on positive liberty as a 
precondition for self-development and human flourishing. Though Berlin 
argues that seminal thinkers, like John S. Mill, formulate a negative 
conception of liberty, it is clear that Mill, influenced by the Romantic 
tradition (Halliday 1979) defines the free individual as one who 
develops, determines, and changes his own desires and interests 
autonomously through self-expression, debate, and reasoned deliberation 
(Donner 1991; Peters 2005).  Following this vein of liberal thinking, in 
the American context, John Dewey most famously elevates “the ultimate 
responsibility” of liberalism to be “education, in the broadest sense of 
that term” (1935: 58). We might associate this line of thought with a 
more communitarian approach or one which understands freedom as 
cultivation or self-development (Sen 2000; Mulhall 1996). Traditionally, 
within liberal nation-states across the world, the most prominent 
practical institutional articulation of this commitment is to be found 
in the public and higher education system—an infrastructure of 
ostensible equal access meant to enable a meritocratic order and support 
the cultivation of an educated citizenry.
Again we can see how this tension plays out in the different genres of 
hacker practice mentioned above, revealing the continued oscillation and 
expression between positive and negative freedom today within the 
interplay between cultural practice and technological systems. An 
approach to negative freedom which emphasizes the autonomy of the 
individual is certainly evident among some hackers, which is why a 
number of their critics have so often accused hacking as a virulent 
strain of  “technolibertarianism gone feral (Borsook 2001: 91; Lovink 
2008). Even within the F/OSS community, for instance, some prefer more 
libertarian free software licenses such as the Berkeley Software 
Distribution (BSD), which eliminates the “coercion” of the more 
communitarian licenses such as the GPL and centralizes individual choice 
over community rights (Chopra and Dexter 2007).
	Equally, among Cypherpunks, the gaze of the other—and particularly of 
powerful institutions—is seen as corrosive to the autonomy of the 
subject. Privacy, that is to say, control of the intimate knowledge of a 
subject’s interiority, must be protected.  And finally, hackers often 
playfully but sternly quip that others must RTFM (Read the Fucking 
Manual), which pushes those asking for help to adopt and perform 
techniques of self-reliance.  In all of these cases, elevating the 
sacrosanct nature of the self-reliant individual and expressing deep 
distrust of  authority or centralized government, hackers have remade 
these broader maxims of negative freedom into cultural reality by 
inscribing them in a variety of material and semiotic artifacts.
That said, the emphasis on the ‘“technolibertarian” or “Byronic” nature 
of hacker practice  made by some authors should not be overstressed. 
Much of hacker practice focuses on a far more positive conception of 
liberty.  Manuals, after all, have been written by someone who has 
shared them so that others might learn. And indeed, in the sphere of 
F/OSS we see a subtle dialectic of recognition and identity under which 
a more positive notion of freedom has been visibly elevated and cultivated.
	For example, in the span of a decade, F/OSS hackers have implemented a 
set of liberal principles which posit a direct relationship between 
self-cultivation, education, meritocracy, and a healthy public sphere. 
Unlike the meritocracy of capitalism, which sanctions the privatization 
of self-made value, the hacker implementation of meritocracy—however 
imperfect and entwined with other modes of governance—seeks to 
constantly equalize the conditions for self-cultivation. Within the 
domain F/OSS, personally-crafted value, such as source code and 
documentation, is fed back and circulated among peers, contributing to 
an endowed and growing pool of resources through which other hackers can 
constantly engage in their asymptotic process of technical 
self-cultivation.  As part of this, they have remade a Millian-inspired 
liberal language of free speech their own.  “The right to create 
software is seen in a similar light as the right to state an opinion,” 
explains Chris Kelty. “If your opinion (software implementation) is 
heard, critiqued, refined and reasserted—just as Mill proposed—then the 
best (the truest) opinion will win out” (2005:187).  These types of 
liberal conceptualizations ground their production of technology as a 
form of imaginative expression that ensures technical progress and 
should never be subject to limitations and barriers.
	New information technologies, notably the Internet, have become a 
privileged site for projecting the aspirations of liberal society. 
Nowhere today are the battles over control, freedom, access, and privacy 
more clearly thematized than the Internet (Holmes 2008; Fisher 1999; 
Gillespie 2007).  A virtual space of innovative collaborative 
production, communitarian sociality and play, and high-tech networked 
activism (Castells 1996, 2001; Escobar 2000; Rheingold 1993; 
Kirshenblatt 1996; Danet 2001), the Internet's commercial turn in the 
mid-1990s also opened it to the vast workings of finance capital, the 
service industry, and consumer capitalism (Terranova 2000; Frank and 
Webster 1999; Schiller 2000).	
	Many Americans are entangled in and, at least partially, aware of this 
contemporary situation.  But hackers experience these same problems and 
contradictions of the information age more directly because they live 
and express this tension through the peculiar lifeblood of their 
cultural world, computing and communications technologies. 
Consequently, studying hackers is an ideal way to bring “into sharp 
juxtaposition the contradictory elements of cyberspace's political 
economy, cultural elaborations, liberating and subjugating potentials, 
new informational-based sciences, [and] alternative engineering designs. 
. .” (Fischer 1999: 247).
	Hacker practice is at the center of these debates, experientially and 
theoretically, because technology is not a means to an end for hackers, 
it is central to their sense of self— making and using technology is how 
hackers individually create and how they socially make and reproduce 
themselves.  Through regular and shared routine practices of their 
ordinary, technical life, which are not fully or always available to 
conscious reflection, hackers come to collectively embody evaluative 
moral and aesthetic dispositions in which knowledge is sacred territory; 
access to and personal control over the means of information creation 
and circulation is valued as essential; and technical activity is often 
experienced as the vehicle for self-fashioning and creative 
self-expression. These unwritten codes of morality, while emerging from 
cultural action, draw from and tie into broader value systems so that 
for “the hacker, the computer begins to reveal itself as the means to 
realize our highest cultural values; independence, freedom, and 
education” (Thomas 2002: 76).
	Even as hackers reveal and rework dominant cultural values, the 
ethnographic and historical record, however, demonstrates that they do 
so by producing a mosaic of ethical positions through which hackers move 
through and between. And it is this fluidity that expresses one of the 
more palpable ironies of hacker morality. While much of hacker ethical 
discourse draws from and reformulates liberal commitments, hackers 
embody a form of subjectivity and formulate an implicit politics often 
denied by liberal theory; they align more closely to the flexible 
subjectivities and poetic politics identified by theorists as notable 
characteristics to the postcolonial experience (Ortiz 1995; Bhabha 1994; 
Gilroy 1994).
  	Conceptualizing hacker ethics as a constellation of genres, as we 
have done here, provides a powerful heuristic device.  Rather than focus 
our attention on a putatively homogeneous set of norms, values, and 
practices among hackers or within the liberal tradition, such an 
approach enables us to simultaneously analyze the interconnected 
heterogeneity of hacker ethical codes as well as those of liberalism. 
We have defined hacker morality as a related but diverse repertoire of 
moral genres that variably realize and critique the concerns and 
contradictions of the wider liberal culture in which hacking is situated 
and yet reveal consistent concerns with the liberal expressive self.
	This article has stayed within the scope of the American and 
Anglo-European liberal tradition and has examined only hacking in the 
United States. A wider-ranging study would require an analysis of the 
ways computer hacking runs against the grain of liberal logics as well 
as a comparative study of hacker culture globally.7 In the last few 
years, for example, the explosion of leftist and anarchist politics 
critical of economic globalization has attracted hacker sympathies 
(Riemens 2004; Coleman 2005a). Examining how the semiotic logics of 
technology cross-cut with political ideologies like liberalism and 
anarchism to inform hacker ethics provides an opportunity to expand the 
study of hacker ethics as well as explore the places in which the lines 
between liberal and anarchist tenets come together and diverge in the 
cultural and technical sphere.
	As we have shown, hacker practice makes visible socially relevant 
questions to those interested in the legal politics of information 
access.  Its answers take shape in an array of implicit and explicit 
political actions and artifacts: bold manifestos, taunting games, 
routine technical publications, and novel legal agreements. 
Increasingly today lawyers, academics, and policy makers have begun to 
scrutinize the living practice of the people who most acutely feel the 
force of these questions when formulating their own approaches to law, 
economics, and policy (Benkler 2006; Lessig 1999, 2001; Bollier 2002; 
Vaidyanathan 2001, 2004).  Because their lifestyles push the envelope of 
what is both technically possible and legally allowable, hacker moral 
visions not only reveal broader contradictions, they at times offer a 
critical perspective and tangible alternatives to current ethical 
dilemmas in the digital landscape. (Nissenbaum 2004; Wark 2004; Galloway 
2004).  Ranging from new, legal software licenses to illegal acts of 
digital transgression, hackers are already thinking through and 
envisioning alternatives which will be central to debates about possible 
digital futures.
The authors would like to thank Kate Lingley and Micah Anderson for 
assistance in proofreading this manuscript and Alex Choby, Genevieve 
Lakier, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
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Gabriella Coleman, Assistant Professor
Department of Media, Culture, & Communication
New York University
239 Greene St, 7th floor
NY NY 10003

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