Worlds and Lives of Hackers

Gabriella Coleman’s bookCoding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hackingis an ethnographic work that provides interesting accounts of hackers. The author, being among the hackers herself, focuses on the characteristics of hackers, things they pride in, their use of humor, the craft and craftiness of hacking,the fact that oscillate on both sides of individualism and collectivism, and many other details concerning hackers.

One strength of the book is that it breaks the prejudice that hackers are isolated personalities often spending time in their rooms working on their computers until they pass out. Coleman, in her book, shows the other side of the coin regarding hackers in that hackers are not isolated; on the contrary, they belong to a wider social community, collaborating with one another, sharing information for better technology and better hackers as well. Their occasional hacker conferences, like Defcon, indicate another aspect of their sociality. This proves that virtual interaction does not mimic or replace face-to-face interaction. Another emphasis in the first chapters of the book is on the humor of the hackers. Hackers are portrayed as witty characters that can use humor very skillfully. This shows hackers are not only equipped with technical capabilities. Their creativity, playfulness and wittiness are often emphasized through different cases and examples. Different functions of humor are also explained through the hackers’ experiences in the book. One justification associated with their use of humor is because of the fact that they outsmart various technical constraints. For this reason, they are said to be good at joking. This observation has been interesting to read about. A new dimension of use of humor can be integrated into literature through Coleman’s contributions.

Another good part about the book is the historical account of free software (later being named as open source) including important names along the way like Stallmanand Torvalds. In addition, with references to neoliberalism, the book includes social, economic, political and legal aspects regarding coding.

Hackers’ creativity and craftiness are often mentioned in the book. The author has also gone in line with such a style by integrating quotes as epigraphs from important pieces of literature (from Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde) at the beginning of some chapters. The quotes relate to the content and context of the chapter. Besides this, inclusion of literature into an account of coding may be considered as a blending of technological aspect and creativity to resemble the situation hackers are involved and engaged in. This work can even be read and enjoyed by those who are not into codes, computers or other similar technical stuff since mundane activities and characteristics of hackers are explained in a plain manner with humor integrated in the accounts.

writtenby A. Dereli as Response Paper X (for COMM 720 Week 11–2016–2017 Academic Year)


Coleman, E. G. (2013).Coding freedom: the ethics and aesthetics of hacking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.