## - sustainability & open source

thinking about open source and sustainability

What does it mean for open source projects to be sustainable? In what ways can we think about sustainability uncoupled from the reproductive logic(s)? What recourse do we have to alternative logics and ecologies for open source projects?

an incompatibility

I see a fundamental incompatibility with open source software (or open source anything) and the general entrepreneurial ethos that floats around dev culture, specifically the monetization of open source projects via licencing, private repos, gumroad, etc. Often, this monetization is utilized to 'sustain' the project, potentially allowing developers to commit more time and resources to the project. Here, I want to take issue less with the contention that work should be compensated than the systems and structures that determine who and what gets compensated and how. There's a lot to unpack here, including the idea that open source depends on and co-constitues a kind of 'community,' that large corporations often utilize open source software without contributing to its development, participating in the community, or compensating its developers, and that these communities often laud those who move into positions of power or extract monetary gain from these projects. Valorizing these kinds of individual (and small team) achievement obscures the ways in which all development, all software, and all thought is ultimately iterative and sedimentary. What I want to suggest here (briefly) is that sustainability in open source must be uncoupled from this drive towards monetization and autonomous production if it wants to survive.

What I am not saying is that being an engineer somehow excises us from the logics of the everyday under neoliberalism -- we need to eat. What I am saying is that open source as a concept and ethos should point through or away from those logics, undermining the fundamental concepts of neoliberal capital and the undercurrents of individual humanism. What I am trying to think through are the ways in which alternative thought is enabled (or limited) by the frames of reference at our disposal. When we think about sustainability in terms of capital, we move from thinking about open source as generative and community oriented towards open source as a system or institution for the reification of our own subjectivity. Put another way, we need an alternative metric for what sustains us, as well as who and what that 'us' is.

insurgent open source tactics

I'm writing these for and towards those who are working as software engineers and developers who also utilize and/or actively contribute to open source software. The underlying ethos exercised throughout is that we should utilize the resources available (time and money to work through difficult projects) and redistribute them for free as learning materials but also as raw resources for building new things.

  1. stealing from the source: taking internal software and making it open source constitutes an obvious mode of open source insurgency. Rather than advocating for actively stealing or posting internal projects (though I'm not not advocating that), I'm suggesting that we use the patterns, concepts, and tooling that has institutional backing and development in open source projects. This could mean making proof of concept repos based on internal work, sharing out of context code snippets, or reproducing solutions to internally researched and solved problems.
  2. infiltration: learning open source software to secure positions that allow you to redistribute information freely. Again, the idea is that gaining access and resources allows us to unblock the flow of information. Thinking about open source as a series of flows, flows that can be choked or wholesale blocked, is beneficial and detrimental because it initially seems to define insurgent work as unblocking. However, no one is actually tried to a singular stream -- they can explode rhizomatically.


What is the work that developers and software engineers do? How is it (and can it) be uncoupled from the logics of silicon valley and venture capitalism?

further reading