Making a case for Interdisciplinarity

or, perhaps less ‘buzz word’-y: making a case for speaking the same language.

I’m in the process reviewing my chapter on Google and I continue to find myself hitting a wall with two radically different ideological realities between the geographer’s cry of neoliberalism and the libertarian cry of open source. It feels patently clear to me that these two ideas and their respective successes have a symbiotic relationship, but what is also clear is that neither discipline has been able to get a ‘little air from the outside’, to recall a perfectly articulated sentiment from AO.

I recently ran across one article from two Poli Sci PhD students at Berkeley that conducted a study on the use of neoliberalism. While their findings were interesting (generally negative connotation or equally neutral connotation, there were very few ‘positive’ uses of the term), what I found more interesting was their disciplinary scope of the project, making claims that in general, there were no ‘definitions’ given by people using it in relation to empirical studies. What was missing was any nod to the plethora of geographers that have engaged neoliberalism- ( I would argue, almost ad nauseaum… sorry)- in the past 15 years, many of which have become quite established as key thinkers in a variety of specialty areas.

I think that sufficiently substantiates my suspicion about the lack of acknowledgement of the compatibility between open-source and neoliberalism. I cannot find a link, primarily because those writing about open-source are generally positive (blanket statement, I know; there are some defectors) and neoliberal literature is not part of their ‘scholarship’ they draw from. In fact, there is little mention of the economic/business environment, other than it stands as a positive alternative to ‘business as usual’.  Geography seems to have a certain positive relationship to ‘web 2.0’ technologies and participant potential, which likely keeps the ‘neoliberal’ analytic off the table and instead, opts for a more feminist or foucauldian framework. Within the more critical work, surveillance of the subject becomes the focus. Neoliberalism is one of Geography’s specters of evil, and seems to provide a ‘satisfactory’ explanation of the contemporary milieu, regardless of the ‘crisis’ examined, but I haven’t found any economic geographers that look specifically at open source.

Maybe it just isn’t spatial enough?

Regardless, I see some real missed opportunities to place these two concepts into conversation. As part of my convoluted dissertation, I have begun to do just that. Post degree, however, it feels like a pretty fruitful to continue to build on this symbiotic condition with a critique or interrogation that, following Manovich in Software Takes Command, seems to be missing from our use of software and the role it plays in our daily lives.