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The Conscientious Hacker: An ethnography of identity and community among hackathons

This thesis examines hackathons and their outcomes for participants and organizers. These events exemplify issues in collective identity and the recursive relationships between individual and collective concerns. Hackathons in the public interest
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  The Conscientious Hacker  i The Conscientious Hacker  An ethnography of identity and community among hackathons Nathanael BassettThesis for theMaster of Arts in Media Studies The New School2013Advisor:Nitin Sawhney ____________________________________________________________ Second Reviewer:Otto Von Busch ______________________________________________________________ Thesis Coordinator:Christiane Paul ______________________________________________________________  The Conscientious Hacker  ii This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/deed.en_US.  The Conscientious Hacker  iii To my wife, for helping me to start and keep working though my thesis, and to my daughter, for helping me finish.  The Conscientious Hacker  iv Acknowledgements First, I want to thank my advisory committee, Nitin Sawhney and Otto Von Busch. Nitin was the one who listened to what I was interested and took the time to connect it with something  practical and worth studying. His approach and outlook in connecting academic work on media with the ideas of participatory culture and the practical use of people to use media to better their lives was something that motivated my work, both on my thesis and with media literacy. In and outside of class, he was an inspiration of someone who was both passionate and purposeful about issues that are intensely relevant - I cannot imagine a better mentor and guide through this work, and I would have been lost without him. Otto was an excellent sounding board who draws from so many great perspectives and fields that I was honored to have him as a second reader. I will never forget his ideas on sloyd, and how a DIY ethos is important to the self-efficacy and autonomy of every person. Both of them were essential to the completion of this work.I cannot think of one instructor or professor at The New School who was not essential in a way I could have never predicted. Everyone I encountered and learned from had something to offer, ideas and experiences that I could not do without. Without listing everyone who I ever took a class with, I will say that Peter Asaro opened my eyes to theory and research methodology in a way I never appreciated before graduate school. Aras Ozgun, though we never met in person, took the theory and philosophy of media studies a step further. And Mark Hannah helped me explore a lot of questions I had about political media and public opinion. Likewise, my fellow students provided a sense of community that encouraged the work. Christo de Klerk has been a great colleague, being central to the success of the OccupyData hackathons as well as our Hackathon Yackathon. The collaboration of pooling resources and sharing ideas drove the work at critical points. My only regret is that we weren’t able to spend more time together in less formal circumstances. Daniel Kim and I collaborated on the  preliminary work of this thesis during the fall of 2012. This was the first time I’d worked closely with a research partner to accomplish work that was uniquely our own, and his involvement  boosted my enthusiasm at the start of the project.Beyond The New School, I am grateful for other graduate students and academics I met when presenting components of this work. The academic community is encouraging in the way  The Conscientious Hacker  v that we can see the struggles each of us are going through, but it especially helpful when you are not working alone, no matter how narrow the issue. To that end, I was pleased to connect with Andrew Schrock, Sebastian Kubitschko, and Pete Cohen, fellow students at other universities who were also working on the subject of hackathons, and reached out to me to share their work and discuss their thoughts. In addition, Thomas Pettitt was an encouraging acquaintance who put to rest much of the “impostor syndrome” I was feeling at the time. I would be remiss without mentioning the organizers of Critical Themes In Media Studies 2013 and Media in Transition 8, who saw fit to accept my work to be presented at those conferences. While many of them were also a part of the academy, I also want to thank OccupyData community, including Suzanne Trammang and Chris Sula, as well as the others who formed the core group of people I watched use the hackathon model and their skills in the wake of Occupy. Also, everyone who participated in the Yackathon Hackathon, including Max Liboiron, Ashley Williams, and others, whose perspectives were refreshing and brought some much needed diversity to our discussion. I’m also thankful for those who helped me finish even when they didn’t realize it. Youth Rights Media gave me a place to work and feel useful outside the university while writing this thesis. Thanks to Joshua Loftus, who walks a similar path and is a close friend and confidant. Lastly, I could never have done any of this without the support of my family, who always encouraged me to learn, work hard, and pursue what is truly important and meaningful to me.
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