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Networks at their Limits: Software, Similarity, and Continuity in Vietnam


This dissertation explores the social worlds of pirated software discs and free/open source software in Vietnam to describe the practices of copying, evangelizing, and translation. This dissertation also reveals the cultural logics of similarity and continuity that sustain these social worlds. Taken together, this dissertation argues that the logics of similarity and continuity are expressions of Vietnam's distance from global networks. Vietnam is currently in a period of rapid economic transition and growing uncertainty. As the country continues to integrate into the global economy, information technologies like software take on new importance as icons of modern industry and economic development. Information technologies like software demonstrate connection to global networks and legitimize Vietnam's place among the global community. However, situated along the edge of global networks, Vietnamese feel the burdens of distance in part with their desires for membership to the global community. This dissertation identifies ideals of difference that affiliate pirated software and free/open source software in the global North with an activist ethos, replete with ideals of transgression and rupture. Such ideals however, are incongruent with the experience of life in the global South, along global edges. Instead, this dissertation argues that through logics of similarity and continuity in the social worlds of pirated software discs and free/open source software, Vietnamese make sense of their place along the edges of global networks. At the place of edges, difference is a burden to overcome not a value to realize and logics of similarity and continuity serve to recuperate distance and disconnection. Analogously, this dissertation identifies similar commitments to difference in networks theories that emphasize hybrid forms. This dissertation proposes the concept of limits to challenge the prism of difference in these theories. By introducing the language of limits, this dissertation reveals the struggles of integrating into global networks and challenges connectivity as an already accomplished fact. The language of limits brings into relief the forms of breakdown--material and cultural--that serve as barriers amid desires for connection and legitimation.

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