Coleman on Hacker Cons

This week I’ve been reading the reports from camp KDE 2010 and looking forward to attending a few hours of Wikipedia Day NYC. So it was a great pleasure to read Biella Coleman’s “The Hacker Conference: a Ritual Condensation and Celebration of the Lifeworld”. I haven’t seen anyone else address this issue, but as a sometimes participant and scholar of related communities, I think she is right to highlight the importance of this venue. In my forthcoming book I note that in addition to virtual spaces “there are the physical spaces in which some community members interact.”

Through Wikipedia “meetups” I’ve attended in New York and annual Wikimania conferences I’ve met a couple dozen contributors. Many of these people I’ve spoken to more than once, and it’s quite easy to speak to a newly met Wikipedian about issues of concern to the community. These conversations were informative, but casual.

So, while formal face-to-face interviews played a very small part in my work, the opportunity to meet with people, to participate in conversations, to see playfulness and laugh at jokes was essential to interpreting what I saw happening online. In Biella’s work I particularly appreciated the inclusion of some history (though I wanted more detail, including whether fandom conferences might’ve had any influence), and how Debian women in part rose out of the opportunity of face-to-face interaction.

Coincidentally, in the last year I have been particularly interested in questions of gender representation and participation at geek conferences. There were a number of instances in which the “playful” discourse of men were said to be predicated on sexist assumptions, and at the least had an alienating effect (e.g., Stallman, Aimonetti, Mouette ). In fact, in a conversation with Biella this summer I noted that 2009 was probably the “Year of [Something]”, where “something” connotes a greater gender consciousness or willingness to confront alienating discourse in open content communities – but I couldn’t come up with a good word!

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