Hackers and the contested ontology of cyberspace

Helen Nissenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This article analyzes the transformation in our conception of hacking over the past few decades to the current point where hackers are conceived as miscreants, vandals, criminals, and even terrorists. It argues that this transformation is more a function of contextual shifts than of changes in hacking itself. In particular, the hacker ethic, which eschews centralized, restricted access to computers and information, is inimical to the interests of established corporate and government powers, including particularly intellectual property and order. Central to this article's argument is that the transformation has been achieved not through direct public debate over conflicting ideals and interests, but through an ontological shift mediated by supportive agents of key societal institutions: legislative bodies, the courts, and the popular media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-217
Number of pages23
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Ethics and information technology
  • Free software
  • Hacking/cracking
  • Intellectual property
  • Internet
  • Linux
  • Open source
  • Political protest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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