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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Web of Extended Metaphors in the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto of Aaron Swartz

  • Author(s): Swift, Kathy
  • Advisor(s): Duran, Richard
  • et al.

Hacktivists tend to be an anonymous group of individuals asynchronously distributed across widely different locales around the planet. They frequently use computers and other forms of information and communication technologies (ICT) to advance such digital rights causes as free culture and open access to the Internet, in addition to the open source software movement. Their arguments against the encroachments of intellectual property rights on the digital commons have pitted them against government and corporate institutions with vested security and remunerative interests in the World Wide Web. While a great many studies have been conducted on the sociological and historical implications of the hacktivist phenomenon, few if any have been conducted on the underlying stances and arguments of the hacktivist community and the corporations and governments they frequently oppose.

For my research, I have analyzed linguistic framing and metaphor usage in combination with theories of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), Frame Semantics, and Cognitive Linguistics as a means to examine the stances of three principal antagonists in the debate over freedom of information on the Internet: 1) hackers and hacktivists; 2) civil rights groups; and 3) governments and corporations. I have focused in particular on the hacktivist, Aaron Swartz, whose authorship of Guerilla Open Access Manifesto (2015, p. 26) coupled with his act of content liberation when he downloaded millions of academic articles, led to his indictment by the Department of Justice.

My eclectic methodology serves to unpack the construction of meaning arising from texts produced by and about hacktivists with a focus on linguistic framing as a tool for analyzing the metaphors that inform stances. Relevant to my study has been the function of metaphorical concepts as ways to create complex frames that in turn capture the attitudes, values, and beliefs that accompany the stances associated with metanarratives and worldviews. Such a methodology has helped elucidate the conflicting epistemological attitude of hacktivists and authorities toward online freedom of information.

The findings of my study reveal that the metaphors used to talk about the social epistemology of the Internet lie at the heart of the debate. Lakoff and Johnson’s expansion on Michael Reddy’s conduit metaphor has been meaningfully applied to an interpretation of the Internet itself in order to facilitate an understanding of the significance of the knowledge ecology in the Information Age. My findings show that Reddy’s conduit metaphor is directly implicated in the downfall of Aaron Swartz and provides a cautionary tale for those fighting to preserve public access to the electronic knowledge commons.

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