SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Parallel Session II: Dissertation Session

Name: Lilly Nguyen
Institutional Affiliation: Department of Information Studies, UCLA
E-mail address:
Paper Type: Work in Progress
Paper Title: Same-Same but Different: Software and its Entrepreneurial Other
Paper Abstract: This chapter explores the historical and political economic context of software production in Vietnam. The wider project consists of an ethnography of three forms of software in Vietnam: pirated discs, free/open source software (FOSS), and mobile phone applications. By looking at these three, my project explores the moral anxieties of copying and hacking in current debates of the innovation economy. In addition, the three forms embody competing views of Vietnam’s place in the larger world and thus represent alternate articulations of transnationality.

This chapter will specifically look at the configurations of place in the work of reproducing and circulating pirated software. As such, this chapter will describe the social world of a software disc shop in Hanoi, while providing a history of the craft-guild economies of early colonial Vietnam. I use this historical frame to situate software shops within the local commercial ecology of the street. This chapter will also explore the ways this shop economy is figured as an entrepreneurial other among FOSS advocates and start-up entrepreneurs.

Pirated software lives within a broader urban ecology of shopkeeping. In large Vietnamese cities, shops selling similar types of goods cluster such that the merchandise and the streets become synonymous: DVD street, Furniture Street, Chicken Alley. This kind of naming has historical precedent, most visible in the old commercial quarter of Hanoi where streets are literally named after the merchandise that were previously sold there. These streets were historically organized by guilds who maintained direct ties to the surrounding villages in which these goods were produced. In Hanoi, software shops are clustered around Computer Street, the current incarnation of what had previously been known as Military Street and Electrical Street.

Within software shops, copying and hacking overlap fluidly. Copying and hacking serve as strategies of repair and renewal within conditions of decay. However, these strategies are vilified, deemed digitally primitive by FOSS advocates while simultaneously celebrated as a resource for national potential by start-up entrepreneurs. This chapter explores the space between this vilification and celebration.

I am in the process of writing the chapter for my dissertation and the workshop will be a first effort to present my dissertation research. I am starting the writing process and will defend in Spring 2013. For the workshop, I would very much like to receive feedback regarding my historical framing of software as well as general feedback on the chapter and the wider dissertation.