Facets of the openness vision and its social consequences. Cultural semiotic analysis of the open source concept
Technology writer Glyn Moody commented in an article for the Open Source Jahrbuch:
“Due to the well-known successes of free software, related forms of Open Access, Open Data, Open Content etc. now also gradually affect public awareness. […] However, in this process we lose track of the main issue, because the joint efforts of all these movements lead to an enormous, completely new Digital Commons of Knowledge” (Moody 2008: 299, own translation).
Moody addresses an important phenomenon here: the penetration of various spheres of society by the ideas of free/open source software (F/OSS) and the reciprocal influence of F/OSS and other “openness” concepts. Originally, “openness” was a vision of the IT community. But now it seems to spread into many sectors and spheres of society.
Being based on a linguistic discourse analysis, the dissertation project deals with the free/open source software discourse (F/OSS discourse) and its vision of openness (the future society will be participatory, collaborative, and transparent). In the context of this project, it is assumed that visions “open up a ‘horizon of expectations’ which can be interpreted differently depending on the viewpoint of its recipients” (Lösch 2014, own translation). Visions can foster innovation, but they can also provoke undesired consequences (risks). The vision of openness promotes technology development. However, one has to ask which impacts result from diverse stakeholder groups influencing and thus changing the vision. Does it still stimulate innovation? Or is it going to be a danger for technology development and society? These consequences are “discourse risks” (cf. Lösch/Müller 2014) and the results of discourse dynamics.
The central question of the dissertation project is in which way the vision of openness interacts with society and which role the perspectivation of various stakeholders plays in the discourse. In this context it is assumed that the interchange between different discourse participants can lead to changes in the original F/OSS concept. One hypothesis, which is going to be verified in the framework of the dissertation project, implies the assumption that the vision of openness is the medium in communication processes between stakeholders and that it accelerates communication.
The goal of the linguistic-oriented analysis is to show the impact of the vision of openness on society. It should also help to inform participants in the discourse about the diversity of the open source domains (cf. open source, open access, open science), about their differences and similarities, and about the relevance of their heterogeneity. Furthermore, it should identify risks which could result from the fact that interpretations of the original ideas which were modified by communication find their way into legislation, from exaggerated expectations regarding OS concepts, or from the modification of the concepts in the respective parts of the discourse.
In addition to the goals related to the content and the object, the dissertation project also pursues theoretical and methodological goals: the role of linguistic research related to socially relevant issues will be reflected. Also, the role of linguistic research in the framework of an interdisciplinary project in field of future studies will be discussed, especially the potential of the exchange between linguistics/semiotics and social investigation. And last but not least, also the socio-scientific vision assessment will be proven and developed further under the added value of the linguistic and semiotic point of view. Against this background, visions will be redefined.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
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