Expanding Human Capabilities Through the Adoption and Utilization of Free, Libre, and Open Source Software
Date of Degree
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Norman St. Clair
Free, libre, and open source software (FLOSS) is software that is collaboratively developed. FLOSS provides end-users with the source code and the freedom to adapt or modify a piece of software to fit their needs (Deek & McHugh, 2008; Stallman, 2010). FLOSS has a 30 year history that dates to the open hacker community at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where information and knowledge was freely shared among a community of programmers and end-users (Lessig, 2006; Stallman, 2010; Sullivan, 2011). The advent of a proprietary or closed software development model in the late 1970s and early 1980s prompted FLOSS advocates like Richard Stallman to develop tools to protect end-users' rights to modify, share, and create software (Lessig, 2006, Stallman, 2010). Since then, the FLOSS and proprietary software development models have become two diametrically opposed points-of-view with advocates and detractors on both sides. This qualitative case study sought to understand in which human spaces FLOSS helped promote sustainable human development by expanding human capabilities in accessing the world's knowledge and information in one community. It sought to answer: How has FLOSS helped to expand human capabilities by providing access to information? Amartya Sen's (1999, 2009) capability approach was used to explore Reglue, a non-profit organization in Taylor, Texas, whose mission is to close the digital divide by providing students and their families with Linux-based computers. Heuristic inquiry was used to analyze participants' experiences using or migrating to FLOSS to explore FLOSS' influence on human capabilities within the boundaries of the case (Moustakas, 1994). Creswell's (2008) qualitative data handling and analysis methodology was also used to identify themes. Five themes emerged from the data that included 14 sub-themes. The study's results revealed that FLOSS does promote sustainable human development by expanding human capabilities in accessing the world's knowledge and information. The results, however, indicate that continued training and guidance were needed to ensure that the participants' success with migrating to and using FLOSS were successful. Conclusions and recommendations were made within the framework of the capability approach that serve to inform practice and policy for future FLOSS ventures or studies as well as to fill a gap that exists within the corpus of current FLOSS literature by adding a human-based case study to the body of FLOSS literature.
Simpson, James D., "Expanding Human Capabilities Through the Adoption and Utilization of Free, Libre, and Open Source Software" (2014). Theses & Dissertations. 23.
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