Feyerabend, Open Source

Paul Feyerabend – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

It’s perhaps a measure of my ignorance that it seems to me that the great Paul Feyerabend is not cited more in the fields of open whatever. His central argument, on behalf of a radical pragmatism in science as well as everything else having to do with obtaining knowledge and information (usable or not; and post-Kant, what is not usable, in the end?), is relevant as few other things are to open access, open knowledge, open source. In practical terms, it means that one puts outcomes over prescribed methods. It does not mean that one must abandon a consciousness of method; indeed, it argues the contrary, for a relentless inquiry into what one is doing and if there is another way of doing it. I think that’s what Feyerabend meant by scientific pluralism.

How do we apply this insight to open source production? Productive open-source communities resist are resistant to fixed methodologies. They require agility and flexibility on the part of the manager, community members, sponsoring entities. I don’t mean by this that obvious protocols of behaviour, such as not being rude on lists, ought not to obtain. But I do mean that the methods of production, the tests of product quality, of merit, are necessarily flexible enough to accommodate the divergences of style and character found in larger projects. Yet, clearly, for there to be communication of any sort, there must be agreed-upon standards–conventions of identity–that allow for difference of implementation and use without mutual incomprehensibility.

This coupling of the anarchic with the conventional makes open source production management an art form: something virtually impossible to codify (at least not without losing its dynamic essence) yet utterly recognizable as producing a valuable object others not engaged in the community can use.