requiem for certainty

Open Source Problematization

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I am currently looking at developing concepts adequate to the general problematization in which practices of ‘open source’ (by which I am broadly referring to open content, open source, open development, open platform techniques and practices). These concepts are probably most helpfully thought about in terms of inquiring into the ‘conditions of possibility’ of the emergent equipment in question. On this view, inquiry into problematization is meant to facilitate the development of general concepts which establish the conditions of possibility of the equipment at all. It is in virtue of these conditions of possibility that potential practices can come to be taken up as open source equipment. This is not yet to say, of course, whether or not these practices are as yet ‘valid’, ‘intelligent’, or ‘right’ uses of open source. It is only to specify that they are intelligible as open source equipmental practices.While the notions of conditions of possibility derives from Kant, the sense in which we use it here is of course much more contextually specific. We are not, of course, interested in the universal conditions of possibility of equipment as such. We are rather interested in the contextual, historical, and spatial conditions of possibility of this form of equipment around here and just now. These conditions of possibility are thus usefully glossed as what Ian Hacking and Arnold Davidson (two prominent Foucauldian philosopher-historians) have called “styles of reasoning.”

Specifying equipment in terms of problematizations understood as general conditions of possibility helps us distinguish the very specific problems and solutions which emerge on the basis of empirical inquiry from the more general problematizations and reconstructions which describe conceptual architecture in virtue of which different empirically-specific sets of problems and solutions can all be said to cohere with one another. For example, the precise problems to which various ‘open source’ equipment such as Linux or OLPC or Wikipedia are precise solutions are of course not all the same. Linux largely emerged as a response to a software development problem, OLPC as a response to a global inequality and internet infrastructure problem, and Wikipedia as a response to an information sharing and knowledge collaboration problem. While these are the specific problems which motivated the various actors in each of these projects to adopt an open source equipmental platform, there is at the same time a more general problematization in virtue of which all of these practices can be described as open. In other words, inquiry into problematization enables us to specify a more general conceptual architecture according to which very specific practices can be shown to be really intersecting with one another at a more general level. It is in virtue of these intersections that it is both correct and useful to describe all of these practices as taking up the same thing when they describe their work in terms of open source concepts. It is in virtue of these intersections, in other words, that there is a shared problematization amongst these projects, a shared style of reasoning, and a shared set of conditions of possibility.

This intersection of different practices within their shared problematization suggests something further about problematizations. Problematizations are formed by sets of conceptual vectors which intersect each other in such a way as to both render older practices problematic while at the same time providing a basis for the elaboration of new practices.


Written by Colin Koopman

November 26, 2007 at 11:16 pm

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