The ideas behind open source software has transformed into a fully-fledged social movement. Nafeez Ahmed of The Guardian describes how the open source movement is a criticism and movement against capitalism and how it “offers us the chance to build on what we’ve learned through industrialization, to learn from our mistakes, and catalyze the re-opening of the commons, in the process breaking the grip of defunct power structures and enabling the possibility of prosperity for all” (Ahmed 2014).
Open hardware and open software have a number of differences. Open hardware produces a materiality in the effect of tangible artefacts (Jiménez 2014:346). In addition to the differences in production, open source hardware differs from software in that it is the design process and not the product itself which is “open” (Jiménez 2014:346).
What are the political and economic implications of open source hardware? To investigate, I will look at WikiHouse as one example. WikiHouse is an open design repository that allows anyone to build an affordable and sustainable house. What is particularly interesting about WikiHouse is how it acts as a direct critique of the current housing market, and in a larger sense, of the economy itself. WikiHouse is quite explicit in this, as one of their three goals is “to grow a new, distributed housing industry, comprising many citizens, communities and small businesses developing homes and neighborhoods for themselves, reducing our dependence on top-down, debt-heavy mass housing systems.” In relation to Jiménez’s notion of the “right to infrastructure” (Jimenez 2014), WikiHouse seems to be less about “re-infrastructuring” their city but about creating their own city and community. In doing so, the open source movement is promoting the re-distribution of capital through the dissemination of information and open-source design. Similar open source projects, such as Open Source Ecology, state that it is this “open source economy” (opensourceecology.org) which is the foundation of a democracy. Contrary to the political implications of the open source project in El Campo where only the governance of infrastructure was challenged, this new open source movement seeks to essentially revolutionize the current political and economic system.
There are however further implications and questions behind WikiHouse and the open source movement. Current open source projects are frequently described with inclusive language in that it is “for everyone”. It would be interesting to see, however, who are the people who are actually participating and engaging in these projects. It seems that there is the potential for only certain kinds of people to engage in open source projects. For example, WikiHouse presumes that everyone has the capital to afford the materials needed to build a WikiHome, excluding low-income families who already own a home and even the homeless.
In conclusion, open source projects are more than easily accessible design repositories, but actually have far reaching economic and political implications. Projects such as WikiHouse attempt to foster a notion of egalitarianism in an effort to not only act as an economic and political critique, but also to invoke real change.
Ahmed, Nafeez. “The Open Source Revolution Is Coming and It Will Conquer the 1% – Ex CIA Spy | Nafeez Ahmed.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 June 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
Corsín Jiménez, A., 2014. The right to infrastructure: a prototype for open source urbanism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(2), pp.342–362.
“Open Source Ecology.” Open Source Ecology. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
Sjöberg, Daniel. “17 Open Source Hardware Projects That Make Me Excited To Be Alive.”Walden Labs. N.p., 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
“WikiHouse.” WikiHouse. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.