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From Indymedia to Anonymous: rethinking action and identity in digital cultures

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The period following the social mobilizations of 2011 has seen a renewed focus on the place of communication in collective action, linked to the increasing importance of digital communications. Framed in terms of personalized ‘connective action’ or the social morphology of networks, these analyses have criticized previously dominant models of ‘collective identity’, arguing that collective action needs to be understood as ‘digital networking’. These influential approaches have been significantly constructed as a response to models of communication and action evident in the rise of Independent Media Centres in the period following 1999. After considering the rise of the ‘digital networking’ paradigm linked to analyses of Indymedia, this article considers the emergence of the internet-based collaboration known as Anonymous, focusing on its origins on the 4chan manga site and its 2008 campaign against Scientology, and also considers the ‘I am the 99%’ microblog that emerged as part of the Occupy movement. The emergence of Anonymous highlights dimensions of digital culture such as the ephemeral, the importance of memes, an ethic of lulz, the mask and the grotesque. These forms of communication are discussed in the light of dominant attempts to shape digital space in terms of radical transparency, the knowable and the calculable. It is argued that these contrasting approaches may amount to opposing social models of an emerging information society, and that the analysis of contemporary conflicts and mobilizations needs to be alert to novel forms of communicative practice at work in digital cultures today.
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Keywords: Anonymous; connective action; digital culture; identity; information society; social movements

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Criminology and Sociology, Middlesex University, London, UK

Publication date: August 3, 2015

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