Open cultural production and the online gift economy: The case of Blender
The economies of the Internet are largely driven by sharing. Much of it is often veiled in a celebratory discourse that emphasizes how sharing artifacts online through gift exchanges removes hierarchies and creates broader access to public knowledge, such as in projects of free culture and open source software development. The article critically interrogates these assumptions and the gift economy of open cultural production more generally. Using a practice called open source animation film making, developed by Blender, an organisation at the core of the largest open source 3D computer graphics community, this paper shows that the discourse surrounding free culture online has largely misunderstood the complexity and ambiguities of the economy below the cultural politics of openness. With the help of classical theories of gift and value I discuss issues of debt, obligation, status, discipline, and social hierarchies created by exchanging online a variety of digital artifacts of different value, such as software, culture, and labor. This article shows that the wealth of open cultural production relies on combining multiple dimensions of gifting with fiscal and hidden forms of capital, producing a culture of secrecy in parallel to that of openness.
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