Originally posted on 18 Sep 2023

1 minute read

If you’re a FOSS practitioner, or someone looking to set up diversity initiatives in an open organisation, I’d caution you against picking up this book. The language of the work is dense, bordering on opaque, and rather exhausting to wade through. It doesn’t contain much in the lines of advice or concrete guidance for those engaging in diversity work. That’s OK though, because the book isn’t intended to be a pragmatic, how-to sort of thing, after all. It’s laser focused on an academic audience, not a practical one.

Having lived through and experienced—either directly or on the periphery—the period which Dunbar-Hester analyses in this work, there wasn’t really much new material or conclusions here for me personally. I noticed no inaccuracies in her reporting of history, but well before the end I also acknowledged that it was history that I really didn’t need or want to revisit. Despite that (and the uninspiring and complex language) I managed to finish the book.

There were two matters that jumped out at me as oddly lacking in her otherwise thorough analyses of the history of diversity efforts in open cultures. The first was that there was no mention at all of the toll that this sort of effort takes on its practitioners, no acknowledgement at all of the burnout and exhaustion many diversity advocates end up experiencing from and for that work. Second was that in the considerable amount of space she spends advising caution against using “representation” as a goal or metric, she never discusses that giving people the ability to see themselves in an otherwise intimidating space can be a useful and empowering thing. Both of these issues could easily have fit in the discussion covered in the book and I’m not sure why she or the editors didn’t notice their lack.

Anyway, it’s a book. I read it. I don’t recommend you do unless you’re academically inclined.