Leaving Ubuntu – for a while

My thesis advisor is really a quite clever guy. I had a meeting with him this afternoon to discuss the first draft of my fieldwork report that I gave him a couple of days ago, and he really pulled it apart:
“Where’s the anthropological distance? Where’s the methodological reflections?” he demanded, and I must have looked pretty stupid just then.

“You’re just using their categories, the way that they talk about things. You don’t really write about the differences in what they say they do, and what they actually do!” he continued. And I sat there nodding, mumbling “‘spose so”, not only feeling shamed for being accused of forgetting the basic tenets of anthropology, but even more so boiling with frustrated anger: What! I’ve worked hard at this! This report is the first concrete result of 7 months of fieldwork and 3 months of preparation before that! Don’t tell me what I know about this community!

But of course, he was right. He wasn’t doubting what I know or how I came about that knowledge. He was merely pointing out that it did not seem as if I had reflected very much on this myself. To him it seemed as if there had been a point in my fieldwork when I had begun to understand the inherent rules, ideals and social structures of the Ubuntu community so well that I had begun to take them for granted. That I had basically gone native to some extent, and that it would not be enough merely to take me out of the field, but also begin to take the field out of me.

I’ve only been out of the field for a few weeks, but even so, I still bring it with me on my computer. I’m still subscribed to lots of mailing lists, I still hang out on various IRC channels, read a lot of Planets, get bug mail and mails on wiki updates. I’m basically in touch with and exposed to the community all the time, even though I’m supposed to stop gathering data and start analyzing it. And as long as I keep these ties, I will inhibit my own reflective distance as an anthropologist.

As I’ve participated in this community, I have met so many passionate people with so much enthusiasm that it has been impossible not to be smitten by it. This passion is what has helped me to contribute and become so involved with the whole project, and naturally it is also what will make it so hard to leave the Ubuntu community, and the net of on-line communications which it consists of, behind for a while.

Yet that is what I’ll have to do in order to be able to reflect on all that I have learned, seen, and participated in over the last 10 months, I will need to leave the communication channels that the Ubuntu community consists of.

Today Ive unsubscribed from all the Ubuntu mailing-lists, logged off the IRC channels, stopped the wiki page-updates, unsubscribe the Planet RSS feeds, and step down from the Launchpad. I will divert my attention capital elsewhere, to my books, my fieldwork notes and my thesis, but it does not mean that I will stop using Ubuntu or encourage others to do so. I’d like to think that I can still share a bit of the work that happens in the community by using and sharing the system itself.

It’s been really great meeting all of you Ubunteros. You are some of the sweetest, most dedicated and geekiest people I’ve ever met. And I do feel honoured to have gotten to know all of you. I will keep my blog on the Planet Ubuntu, but only posts related directly to Ubuntu will appear here. I do plan to come back to the community once my thesis is done and my university obligations no longer conflict with my newly-found interest and passion for Free Software.

See you in 6 months’ time…


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Sorry to hear that you will be leaving the Ubuntu community. I stumbled across your blog almost by accident with the Ubuntu aggregator and thought you might be interested in a related piece of research.

I’m not an anthropologist, but in my dissertation work, I studied social and technical aspects of open source software and open source communities. My lack of anthropological training means my work lacks the kind of rigor you might like, but it still may be somewhat useful.

My thesis, “Open Source Software: A Conceptual Framework for Collaborative Artifact and Knowledge Construction”, by Eric Scharff, is available at


If you would like to discuss this or any other issues, please feel free to contact me at the address provided in this reply.

Best of luck with your graduate work!

It has been awesome getting to know you. I’ll miss the talks. I can totally understand you’re situation though. Ubuntu is so darn addictive you loose all sense of reality 😉 Let us know when your thesis is done, I look forward to reading it. See you in 6 months!

hi andreas,

good luck with this. i am sure the final result of you pulling out will be nothing short of fantastic and i am very excited to read it. please do pass along anything you may want me to read.

i also was in a similar boat as you when i finished research. i was living in sf immersed in all things geeks and i just had to go to start writing, which is what i did. back to chicago where i started to get a handle on things as i was swimming in the soup of intense academic thinking and all that jazz.

so good luck with this and again i look forward to your thoughts and arguments,

i wish you the best for your analysis! looking forward to reading it, and hope to see you at next akademy 🙂


Thank you all for your kind comments. I’ll miss hanging out with you on-line. Though I’ll try to cut myself off from the main communications of the community, I’ll still be on Jabber in case you want to get hold of me. And please do at least once so I can get back in touch with you… 🙂

lloydinho […at…] jabber.org

Great to hear that I am not alone- I felt completely inept in many of my ‘sessions’ discussing draft papers with my supervising prof (anthropology). But I survived. I suppose that more of this is open source than what you think- I like the idea.

I came across this blog by accident- please excuse my ignorance, but what is ubuntu in this context- where I come from it is used in a serious manner to say basically ‘ we are because of each other’, or motho ke motho ka batho!

Hi Zendré,

Ubuntu is a computer operating system based on Debian GNU/Linux and developed by an on-line community and the IT company Canonical, owned by South African millionaire, Mark Shuttleworth.

You can read tonnes more about Ubuntu the operating system at http://www.ubuntu.com, and you can check back here sometime in June to get a copy of the final thesis.

Fingers crossed. 🙂

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