Accepted Paper:

Organising control: a study of the collaborative production of free software  


Reinhard Anton Handler (Karlstad University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the importance of control in free software. Its main argument is that while software rests on a computational logic the impact on organisations is ambiguous. Computational control allows surveillance but embedded in free software it forms the basis for free collaboration.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the forms of control involved in the production of free software. Free software is often praised as the vanguard for decentralised forms of production. Much of the enthusiasm draws from the perceived lack of hierarchies and control in the organisation of free software. Existing research has highlighted governance, hierarchies and power laws in commons-based peer production. This paper adds an additional perspective by discussing flexible forms of control in the collaborative production of free software. It focuses on the specific characteristics concerning the ethic of collaboration and coordination of production in The Document Foundation, the home of the free office suite LibreOffice, which defines itself as an independent self-organising meritocratic free software organisation. The major contribution of this paper is to describe how the organisation The Document Foundation and the production of LibreOffice rests on a software logic that allows tracking and close control of a collaborative production process. It shows that a 'softwarization of culture' (Berry, 2015) has specific features and repercussions but the organisations that emerge can operate differently depending on the social and cultural contexts. Tracking, embedded in the ethic of free software, offers close control of a collaborative process allows while it also offers exit points of this organisational control when it is embedded in the fundamental freedoms of free software.


Berry, D. M. (2015). Critical theory and the digital. New York: Bloomsbury.

Panel C20
Software & organisation