Review: Aksulu and Wade’s “A Comprehensive Review and Synthesis of Open Source Research”
Aksulu, A., & Wade, M. (2010). A comprehensive review and synthesis of open source research. Journal of the Association for Information Systems,11(11), 576-656.
While it is useful to assess the progress of a field’s development, a research taxonomy is silent about whether or not the extant research is appropriate or productive. The taxonomy tells us only where the field is, not where it should be, or where it needs to go next. It can perhaps provide an indication of areas of overlap, but it says little about gaps. The categories may be mutually exclusive or near exclusive, but there is no way to know if they are appropriate, or exhaustive (584).
Aksulu and Wade’s combined qualitative/quantitative, taxonomic meta-analysis of Open Source research presents a fascinating “state of the field” view through Systems Theory (577) of various approaches researchers are taking in studying the OSS movement and its processes, products, and people. Compiling and categorizing 618 separate peer-reviewed research-centric articles, the authors attempt to provide a current perspective on work researchers are doing within—and about—open source spaces.
The taxonomy includes seven primary categories (“patterns”), and an additional 57 subcategories (“codes” and “sub-codes”), for (non-exhaustively) identifying typical F/OSS objects of study – of these patterns (see Figure 1), the “Beyond Software” pattern (which applies to only 1/6th of OSS research published) contains subcategories of particular interest in humanities research, including the OSS paradigm, innovation, knowledge flow, standards, education, and user-centric production implications (579-83).
The calculated mean for codes per article is 2.19, significantly implying most research functions at the intersection of at least two sub-codes.
Because the Systems Theory methodology is multipartite and holistic, it is highly modular and capable of being appended or modified to include new research directions over time (592). This serves the overall purpose of the study, which aims not only to contextualize and study current trends, but also identify directions of research coverage, overlap between research “patterns,” and venues for future research – which might productively combine data from multiple patterns to create new knowledge in the field. This design also serves the multidisciplinary interests of F/OSS research, focusing not on specific avenues of contribution or data generation/sources, but rather upon specific objects of study which might serve multiple disciplinary, epistemological, and social questions. The detached interest of the study serves its generalist applicability.
I recommend this article as a strong model for anybody looking for a way to provide categorical meta-analysis on multi-disciplinary fields of study. It presents a strong methodological model for understanding the intersections of multi-disciplinary research, as well as methods for contextualizing discipline-specific work outside of its native contexts (see Figure 2). Although the article is written largely from a business-development standpoint, the work proves the adaptability of F/OSS for multiple contexts by moving the field of research outside of the exclusive realm of either business practice or product development. However, I would argue that the study of paradigms and knowledge flow could have been further delineated into rhetorical, practical, and institutional concerns in order to provide further knowledge outside the range of production-centric research which contributed the bulk of the research indexed.
Considering this work as a contextualization of humanities-centered research in F/OSS, my previously studied article by Zoetewey presents an interesting codifying challenge. While Zoetewey’s work studies the paradigm, standards, and knowledge flow implication of the F/OSS field, there is also an element of rhetorical identification which is missing, and which implies an incompleteness to Aksulu and Wade’s taxonomy. I hope to resolve this difference through further study and proposed amendments to the patterns and codes listed here to further support the humanities’ perspective on this research topic.
(Body length – 495 words)