The constitution of resistance in the open source software movement : Gentoo Linux and the universe at the end of organization

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Bureaucracy is dead and resistance is ineffective. That is, in summary, what some of the organization literature oriented to ‘post-bureaucracy’ would have us believe. As society has progressed to become post-industrial, such that a new knowledge economy has become as important, if not more important, as a source of economic growth, scholars have predicted the decline and death of the bureaucratic form to make way for the imminent arrival of a range of new technology-driven post-bureaucratic forms that embed rules and policy in systems. These systems are seen to obviate the need for overt controls and flatten hierarchies, dispense with physical offices and equipment by virtualising organization and dispense with the notion of career by turning organizations into short-term projects. As power moves from relatively explicit and overt coercive and manipulative modes to progressively more subtle dominating and subjectifying approaches, the acts of resistance that are the inevitable reactive consequences of such organizational exercises of power are also seen to become progressively more subtle. The problem for resistance to exercises of power designed to dominate and subjectify is that they often take the form of subjective mental escape attempts that amounts to little more than a letting off of steam with no real imposition on the source of power that is resisted that may also have the effect of further subjugating the resistant employee by ‘cooling’ them out. A theory of polyarchic bureaucracy offers a way out for both bureaucracy and resistance as a form of organization that permits resistance where it stands to improve organizational practices without disturbing established power structures. This study responds to a call for further research on polyarchic bureaucracy by taking advantage of an unusual opportunity to observe an organization from its genesis to the present day. A multi-faceted qualitative analysis is made of interview data and a range of found data that includes meeting transcripts, chat-room logs, mailing list discussions and Internet forums. In seeking to study the Gentoo Linux Project as “something… normal, Just a different kind of normal”, insights are uncovered that would have remained hidden had this “weird, exotic” organization been presented as a mere “sociological freak show”. Key findings are that the theory of polyarchic bureaucracy is supported, that polyarchic bureaucracy may extend to permit resistance on the part of both individuals and groups that fundamentally alters both power relations and organization structure, and that widely shared vocabularies of motive in OSS communities may misrepresent the ‘true’ motives of individuals operating in gift economies.
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