Browser culture. An ethnography of the risks and benefits that result from technological vulnerability in an online community


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Type of work: Masters Thesis


Anthropology | Free Software | ICT & Information Society | Social Media & Social Software


The thesis begins with an exploration of Lev Manovich’s conceptualisation of a software culture. This conceptualisation of culture is then related to Wiebe Bijker’s conceptualisation of a ‘technological culture’ and his notion of ‘technological vulnerability’. The convergence between ‘a software culture’ and ‘a technological culture’ as a point of departure, serve to further explore and expand on the meaning of ‘technological vulnerability’. It is then argued that the young scientific disciplines of Software Studies and applied cultural analysis can mutually benefit each other in furthering understanding of these conceptualisations, and their convergence, by jointly inventing new methodological strategies. The empirical example of the Mozilla Firefox community serves to elucidate how software as a major element of a technological culture, and technological vulnerability, are constituted. To achieve symmetry and reflexivity in the analysis, a few intellectual positions on the concept of the community are discussed, and it is then argued that this is achieved by drawing upon ANT. The empirical data is gained from a multi-­‐modal approach to conducting ethnographic fieldwork online. The ethnography consists of three interrelated parts that draw upon elements of analytic auto-­‐ethnography and Bruno Latour’s proposal for actor-­‐network theory. With this approach, the thesis answers the question: how is technological vulnerability perceived and culturally constituted in the free and open source software-­‐creating community of Mozilla Firefox? Finally, a brief reflection on Eric von Hippel’s notions of ‘lead user’ and ‘innovation community’ suggests how these concepts are related to the results of this thesis, and how they may help to contribute to a field-­‐driven project that aims at delivering applicable results to an organisation or company.