Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


The Making of Laborer Subjectivity and Knowledge in the Information Industry: Gender Dimensions of Free and Open Source Development

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Oliver Boyd-Barrett (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Victoria Ekstrand (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Deborah Wooldridge (Committee Member)


This study examines female software developers as knowledge laborers with a special emphasis on free and open source software (FOSS) development. In examining female developers as knowledge laborers, this study focuses on both labor and knowledge. Women's low participation in FOSS development is not an issue of recent years, but a consequence of women's overall status in the computing field over the last three decades. In order to explicate women's low participation in FOSS development, a broader historical and economic analysis is needed. Thus, this study explores the historical context of computer science education and industry in the 1980s since this is when the groundwork for FOSS development was laid. Furthermore, the power of cultural discourses that maintain and reinforce the gendered construction of FOSS development is discussed to unpack how the gendered construction is interrelated with the labor relations in the knowledge industry. In addition to the labor relations in FOSS development, this study attends to the knowledge produced by FOSS development. Knowledge gains importance as a sum of values of the knowledge producers. Source codes written by software developers turn into products that engage users with certain utility. Female FOSS developers produce knowledge that reflects their values constructed from their embodied experiences. Attention to the voices of female FOSS developers is significant as their different experiences lead to the ways in which knowledge is produced within FOSS communities.