Images of innovation in discourses of free and open source software

George Dafermos, Michel J.G. van Eeten


In this study, we examine the relationship between innovation and free/open source software (FOSS) based on the views of contributors to FOSS projects, using Q methodology as a method of discourse analysis to make visible the positions held by FOSS contributors and identify the discourses encountered in the FOSS community. In specific, our analysis reveals four discourses: four ways of expressing oneself used by FOSS contributors, which, aside from certain commonalities, postulate fundamentally different conceptions of innovation. Whereas the dispersion of FOSS contributors’ subjectivity across four different discourses is indicative of the diversity and heterogeneity of the FOSS community, their commonalities, however, demarcate a common ground that all discourses share: points of agreement include the negative effect of patents on innovation, the predominant role of end users over manufacturers in the innovation process and the embrace of FOSS licenses as a key enabler of innovation. In the conclusion, we outline some implications for innovation management and policy.


commons; distributed innovation; free software; open source; user innovation

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