Abstract: Anonymous is a model of collectivity that operates within the biopolitics of software and emerges at the intersection of human beings, affects and codes. It materializes the demand for “community without unity“ (Thacker) and inspires to (re)think the constitution of the social/political beyond a logic of antagonistic relation. By concentrating on Anonymous as a phenomenon that strives to escape representational logics and disciplinary borders I use it to question traditional research approaches and ask for a transversal perspective.
“Hackergroup“, “hacktivist organization“, “cyber terrorists“, that is how many journalists have described Anonymous. With “Operation Payback“, the campaign for the support of WikiLeaks in December 2010, and the contribution to the Arab Spring 2011 Anonymous has become famous in the mainstream media. But the outdated descriptions in the newspapers don`t capture a new phenomenon: Anonymous is not a group that can be defined by its members or leaders and it has no roster or base of operations. “We are all anonymous“, it shouts as it swarms and attacks. Within processes of online (co)operation, a rhetoric of inclusion is activated that undermines traditional logics of representation by creating new logics of relation. This spontaneous figure of inclusion works differently than traditional identities of inclusion like “the Italians”, “the women” and “the socialists”. The momentary representation of the group is based on the swarming and shouting, linked to the brief appearance of Anonymous which therefore no longer fits the traditional sociological definition of a group anymore. Is Anonymous a new kind of collectivity?
Analyzing a “new” appearance challenges traditional empirical methods of social science. Researchers like Tsianos/Pieper/Kuster (2011) have problematized the sociological approaches of investigating “making connections” within and with the digital and asked for the invention of new methodologies (Lovink/Patelis 2011). Their ideas are reflected in the challenge of analyzing Anonymous that confronts the researcher: To analytically approach the processes of collaborative constitution raises the question of a “beyond” without recourse to an analytics of transcendence and essential identities (Zehle/Rossiter 2009).
Beyond representation: How can we analyze new collectivities that escape the logics of representation that the traditional methods of research and knowledge production are based on? Anonymous cuts across the logics of empirical research approaches as it flees representation, unifies emergence and existence, and exists never as fully constituted but only in the process of constitution – it is only in actu. Researching Anonymous one never encounters the same content, as it changes on a representational and on an algorithmic level.
Beyond disciplinary borders: Anonymous claims to be a “community without unity” (Thacker 2004) and specifies that the idea of a collectivity that is decentralized, without homogenizing identity and is thus open to everyone can only work based on the internet and with anonymous communication online. But the space that Anonymous emerges in is structured by an architecture of code and protocol, by the dispositives of communication and the biopolitics of software in which the machinic and the human become entrenched and impossible to disassociate (Haraway 2004).
How does the distribution of sense perception and the processes of translations work in this socio-technical system that constitutes Anonymous? How do we investigate the circulations of affect and the materiality of code data (and hardware)? (Parikka 2011)
Researching new forms of association under the conditions of the ongoing informatization requires to reflect the movement of mutual constitution of dispositives and media techniques – and the social practices that Reichert (2008) emphasizes, because in his perspective using the infrastructure means producing and potentially modifying it.
To understand the processes of collaborative constitution online it therefore seems necessary to combine research methods like the multi-sited ethnography and analysis of algorithms and the modes of control, power and production in the age of networks (Galloway 2004). These research and documentation methods are informed by power and hegemony theory as well as by new materialist approaches and take into account the role of the researcher. By considering Anonymous a phenomenon that only exists within the emergence of the connection of digital and analogue components, of human beings, affects and codes this new collectivity inspires to (re)think the constitution of the social/political beyond antagonism.
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