16 – The Three Dimensions Of A Comunitarian Institution: The Open Source Software Community Case

The analysis of the empirical studies relative to the Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) case highlights the necessity to enlarge the set of categories used to describe developers’ incentives. In particular, the evidences stress the important role played by another category of incentives, broadly and roughly defined as “psychological and social motivations”. However, the theories elaborated to cope with this dimension, such as “gift economy”, “epistemic community” or “community of practice”, are not combined into a unique structured framework. Each one of them, in fact, is focused on particular features of the FLOSS model, so that the FLOSS community itself is often described as a “hybrid institution”, obtained combining different perspectives. However, it is possible construct a mechanism –here called “reflexive identity”- able to bridge the analyzed theories and to explain the empirical evidences left aside by self-supply, reputation and signaling.

The reflexive identity mechanism develops through the nexus of ties connecting the community members. In order to cooperate, members have to “negotiate” the system of meanings they use to interface with the world and with the communitarian environment. But this means reshaping also their own vision of the world, redefining their values and thus their identity. The space opened by the negotiation, then, is the space where community aims, principles and ethos act directly on members’ identity, making them internalize the communitarian structure of rules. The reflexive identity principle, then, merges the psychological and social dimension of the FLOSS phenomenon with the structure of rules adopted by the FLOSS community, and thus it constitutes together with self-supply, signaling, reputation and peer regard the basis upon which the FLOSS community is built.