The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
Revies (From Free Software to Artisan Science) image

Review A

Review by Anonymous Reviewer

1) Is the subject matter relevant?
Yes: the paper is in line with the CfP and the Journal subject matter,

2) Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations of bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?
I believe that “the subject matter” is intellectually interesting indeed. The author wishes to emphasize the critical power of free software mainly looking at the hacker principle of the “hands on”. According to the author the legal framework of software licenses offers much less in this term (ie. It has lost critical ability) than the ability of hackers to change, modify, tweak and reinvent technologies. This is a perspective, that although I do not fully share, has its merits. It also seems very much in line with what the CfP requests.

I think it is interesting to see how the author builds the relationships between the critical hacktivism and the concepts by Deleuze and Guattari, especially territorialization/deterritioralization , smooth/striated spaces. It is also intriguing to see how these concepts are further augmented with Gibson’s notion of technical affordance and with Freire critical pedagogy.

Also the use of examples taken from the direct experience of the author are relevant and bring added value to the discussion. Clearly critical hacktivism implemented in relevant cases allows several opportunites to construct a smooth critical space within current liberal and neo-corporate technological approaches, largely present also in NGOs.

3) Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s mean of validating assumptions or making judgements?
There are some limits however, in the way the above relationships (ie between hacktivism and Deleuze & Guattari concepts) are conceptualized. Somehow I feel it is quite easy to assign what we believe is “positive” (ie hacktivism) to the side of deterritorialization/smooth space and assign what we believe is negative ( neo-corporate dynamics) to territorialization/striated space. As a reader I am still not convinced about this. The author should work toward strengthening this claim. How?

The author starts since the beginning saying the open source has been somehow subsumed by the same forces it was criticizing. This indeed recalls the description that Deleuze & Guattari make about how nomadic populations are being subsumed in the Nation States. However this point is less developed in the paper, and it would be important I believe to have a paragraph describing this issue with much more details. The paragraph 2 “Striation” does not for instance offer enough details on this. Indeed while the remaining of the paper is full of examples, this has almost none.

A further aspect that is not being addressed is the issue of “division of labor”. In a Thousands Plateau, Deleuze and Guattari put a lot of emphasis on the different division of labor existing in nomadic packs and in the nation states. At some point they also say that “the state is what makes the distinction between governor and governed possible”. This seems to me a key aspect for discussing Free Software and critical hacktivism. Does indeed critical hacktivism break with traditional division of labor (for instance between technology designers and user)? I believe it does and the “hands-on” principle is indeed a sort of affordance that allows the figures of the designer and user to become confused. I would like to see the issue of division of labor being addressed somewhere, showing how the differences in the organization labor (critical hacktivism Vs. neo-corporate free software) also do structure a smooth space. To a certain extent the “hands-on” could be seen also as an affordance that offer opportunities to different and critical divisions of labor. This would also link, I believe with the notion of artisan science and the idea of an “independent artisan” (pg. 6)

This would greatly strengthen this paper and further support the authors claims. There is room for adding these considerations..

4) Is the article well written?
Yes. The article is well written. Presentation of issues flows logically and the text is also engaging for the reader. I have no specific comments on this.

There are a number of references quoted in the text that are missing from the end list, in particular I noticed:

  • Aaltonen 2008 (pg. 4)
  • Ahmed 2011 (pg. 4)
  • Coleman 2009 (pg. 5)
  • Stengers 2010 (pg. 7)
  • Breins (1989)
  • but there could be others. Much more attention should be paid when compiling the final references list.

    5) Are there portions of the article that you recommend to be shortened, excised or expanded?
    Yes. The conclusions could be largely expanded I believe. They are just a short list of the key points presented in the article, but the article would benefit from a much deeper discussion about the “critical power of free software” and the key relevant points of the paper. Indeed the manuscript touches a number of issues and concepts but it does not end with a final discussion about the relevant contribution of this paper. I think there should be a Discussion section in which the notion of critical hacktivism is rediscussed in the light of the paragraphs “artisan science” and “occupying and prototyping”. Also in this section it would be nice to see some links that connect back the notion of “critical hacktivism” with the concepts by Deleuze and Guattari. Indeed one could ask the question of whether this paper brings something to the original discussion of a Thousands Plateau or if it merely applies these concepts.

Review B

Review by Anonymous Reviewer

About the text
Starting from the very beginning, the title “From free Software to Artisan Science” already portends to a critical content. Even though few skills in Peer Culture and Free Software, I always considered
this matter enable to create a social intellectual growing and, in this sense, this paper is giving a good overview in how and why the hacktivism evolved/ is evolving and is part of our everyday life.
From the first point, Mcquillan, using the concept of “striation”, explicits the reason why “free software” should be more considered as a potential way to perform and act with and in the institutions and organization.

The explicit question, in the beginning of the introduction, suggests a different structure of the text but any expectation changes within the reading. Every section of the article is well connect: the kind
of storytelling used through the “Social Innovation Camp” experience helps to put the general concept of hacktivism in action. Thanks to the personal background of the writer, the article treat many “themes”, and in some point it would be interesting an extension of them: it could be interesting, for example, add information about “hacker ethic” and “de-territorial aspect”.

The article, even well written, lacks a little a time references of the evolution from “Free Software” to the “Artisan Science”. In this sense, even the references to the “Social Innovation Camp”, reading the article is like to be suspend in an abstract space until the last section which is more concrete and bring the reader on the real life.

A discussion: who can be an artisan?
Telling about the scenario of Free Software culture, the author introduce an interesting point regarding the people who behave in this way. Mcquillan mentioned the existence of “hacker and geek communities”. As Katz (2000) said describing who are geeks, we have to consider them as “member of the new cultural elite”. This perspective suggest an image of a geek who sees her/himself as a citizen of the net with specific traditions and rules, and who can turn her/his own computer into a “sophisticated cultural centers”.

Looking on geeks as a specific community of people, we have to consider the definition of community proposed by Castells (2009), a network without bounders and multidimensional, which is still a space to socialize and for creativity, as Rheingold (1994) said talking about virtual communities. It is because of the existence of this specific group of people, with a common point of view – the “peer knowledge” in the case – that it is possible to argue about concrete possibilities of Free Software future.

In some way the critical aspect of peer knowledge, seems to be the base of the knowledge society, the society where information – the input coming from the environment around us – is more then never before thank you to the information/digital technologies. But, that are not enough without the support and the intellectual process of a compact community.

As the author, highlights and well argues, it is fundamental a solid and robust pedagogical ground enable to construct (and maintain) a common experience of peer and to understand Hack Culture and how is nowadays part of our society. Moreover, the discussion about the concept of peer, how this set of concept spreads over the territories and takes a practical shape, has a robust theoretical framework enabling to understand the issue properly. Reading the article seems to be that the Free Software – and the concept on its back – ripe to talk about “Artisan science”.

The Mcquillan point of view seems to consider a sensible and aesthetics point of view of a material dimension. In this discussion, the artisan, or craft science, emerges as a results of compromise between the “artisan” and the society where she/he acts. The figure of the artisan is perfectly described in the last section of the article, where the author cites @sandmonkey: the artisan seems to be the one who can use her/his knowledge and her/his competences to improve the environment. And in here, there is a question, is there a possible conjunction between the artisan science and non-artisan science?


  • Castells M., (2009) Comunicazione e potere, EGEA, Milano.
  • Katz, Jon. 2000. Geeks: how two lost boys rode the internet out of Idaho. New York: Villard (Random House)
  • Rheingold H., (1994) Comunità virtuali. Parlare, incontrarsi, vivere nel cyberspazio, Sperling & Kupfer, Milano.