My PhD Project

My PhD project falls within the broad field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and focuses on the topic of "users and technology production". In STS, users are considered a key actors group in the study of technological production, maintenance and evolution. Therfore they should not be neglected in studies that are interested in these phenomena.

This research is interested in the role of the users in the development of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) projects. FOSS is a software development paradigm which embodies an ethical view of what software should be for society. Thanks to particular software licences and to the fact that the source code is publicly accessible FOSS allows for an open, collaborative and distributed way of developing and maintaining software.

Today, FOSS is a worldwide renowned phenomenon and widely investigated. Indeed, FOSS is a lively and multidisciplinary research topic. Software engineering, computer science, innovation studies,  knowledge management, economics  and also cultural and sociological studies are all interested in investigating FOSS and some of its aspects. However, the departing assumption of this research is that current research neglects (a part from very few exceptions) the relevance of the users. In a simplified view of the FOSS communities social structure it is possible to identify: project leaders, core developers, co-developers, active users and passive users. Most of the literature existing today is interested in everything that relates to the first three roles and all the related activities they are involved with, but the last two groups and their relation to the software development is largely neglected.

With the case study of Battle for Wesnoth and the use of (cyber-)ethnographic research method, this project aims at highlighting the role of users in FOSS projects. The following general questions inform this research: What kind of practices are the users involved in? What relations do exist between the users local practices and the software development ones? How do users experience their participation in the community? How does the software use mediate participation in the community?

 

Update: if you are interested, you can download here the full proposal. Unfortunately, at the moment is only available in Italian.

Update2 (20/03/2011): After the work on my reasoned bibliography (can be found here) the academic frame of this reasearch moved from STS towards the Participatory Design (PD) field. As soon as I have more time I'll update the content of this page