[Air-L] cfp - The Social Productivity of Anonymity

Andreas Wittel andreas.wittel at gmail.com
Tue Nov 11 15:40:05 PST 2014

 Call for papers for an *ephemera *special issue on:
 The social productivity of anonymity

 *Issue Editors: *Götz Bachmann and Andreas Wittel

Anonymity is deeply tied to the European values of liberty, equality and
fraternity. Concealing one’s identity can enable freedom (as in the
anonymity of speech), support equality (e.g. in anonymous application
procedures), and provide the basis for non-reciprocal relationships as
expressed in the value of brotherhood (e.g. asking a stranger for
directions). It is capable of traversing cultural differences and is
essential for many contemporary forms of sharing, communality and
collaboration (e.g. commons based peer production such as Wikipedia entries
and open-source software). However, it is also contested and, indeed, under
threat: networked databases, biometric identification and surveillance
technologies such as CCTV are matched by discourses that condemn anonymity
and celebrate transparency and openness. Legal, technological and moral
imperatives towards transparency contribute to a process in which anonymity
is increasingly under attack. As a consequence, the ‘end of anonymity’ has
been declared in public discourses, not only since the revelations of
Edward Snowden. However, this claim deserves to be scrutinised a bit

Using a more analytical perspective, it becomes apparent that anonymity
constitutes a specific form of social relation in which potentially
identifying markers of individuality and difference are dissociated from
specific individuals and collectives. This has the effect of creating
situational, relational and partial forms of unknowability, invisibility,
and untrackability (Nissenbaum, 1999; Ponesse, 2013). As contemporary
societies are increasingly based on networked infrastructures we face new
questions of how information, property and people can be disconnected. This
holds true with regard to phenomena such as the international activist
network Anonymous, internet-based communication, and forms of ‘algorithmic
anonymity’ (Rossiter and Zehle, 2014). The social, moral, and legal
significance of anonymity is also reflected in such controversial domains
as baby drop-off boxes and anonymous births, the anonymous donation of
organs, gametes, and blood, as well as peer reviewing and application

Research into current transformations of anonymity at the intersections of
technologies/infrastructures and politics is surprisingly thin. Empirical
scholarship is fragmented and theoretical conceptualizations are rare
(Nissenbaum, 1999; Frois, 2009; Wiedemann, 2012; Ponesse, 2013). With a
perspective on everyday social and cultural practices future research will
be able to build on a number of ethnographies such as Konrad’s work on egg
donation (2005), Copeman’s comparative inquiries into blood donation
(2009), Frois’ exploration of anonymity in self-help groups (2009), Lock’s
ethnography of organ transplantation (2002), and Coleman’s study of hackers
who operate under the Anonymous label (2010, 2013). While these studies
provide some methodological and theoretical groundwork, none of them has
addressed anonymity in its full complexity, nor have they linked
constellations of anonymity regimes across different case studies.

To collect insights into the ways in which anonymity is modified,
maintained or abandoned in contemporary online-offline worlds, this special
issue will combine three areas of research into anonymity: (1) research
into technologies and infrastructures of information, communication,
surveillance and identification; (2) research into the regulation, ethics
and politics of anonymity; and (3) research into the everyday practices of
anonymity ranging from sperm donation to social media, from peer review to
police work, from political mobilisation to self-help groups.

While anonymity is a deeply ambivalent social form we are particularly
interested in contributions that defend anonymous interactions. Can we
develop a concept of anonymity that emphasises its cultural and political
values and its social productivity? Can we demonstrate that anonymity
enhances, enriches and strengthens the social?

We welcome contributions from a wide range of disciplines, looking for


   Enquiries into the technical dimensions of anonymity: What forms of
   standards, protocols, software designs, technologies and aesthetics are
   shaping anonymity? How are they designed, decided upon, regulated and

   Ethnographic case studies into local formations of anonymity, especially
   those that connect online-based forms of anonymity with offline practices.

   Case studies on the macro and micro-politics of anonymity, especially
   when anonymity becomes problematic. What undermines anonymity in specific
   settings, who develops strategies in its defence and to what aim?

   Research into activist tactics and strategies for enabling anonymity,
   and attempts to raise the public socio-technical literacy with regard to
   managing identifying information (for example cryptoparties).

   Research into the legal, moral or ethical principles and (historical)
   discourses, and how they are enacted, reflected, criticized or recreated by
   heterogeneous actors while doing/undoing anonymity.

   Theoretical and empirical articles on the properties of anonymity, such
   as blockages of tracing identification, continuities between past and
   present and the prevention of reciprocity, and anonymity’s duration,
   (non-)reversibility and dynamics.

   Theoretical and empirical articles on ways in which anonymity connects
   to concepts and practices of the person, the self, the social, of
   private/public constellations, of statehood, property and the commons.


Potential contributors are asked to write an extended abstract (between 500
and 1000 words). Abstracts should be sent to both editors (goetz.bachmann
[at] leuphana.de and andreas.wittel [at] gmail.com). The deadline for the
submission of abstracts is *15 January 2015*. Notification of acceptance of
abstracts will be 1 March 2015, and the deadline for the submission of full
papers is *30 September 2015*. Please note that three categories of
contributions are invited for the special issue: articles, notes, and
reviews. All submissions should follow *ephemera*’s submissions guidelines (
<http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/submit.htm>). Articles will undergo a
double blind review process.

Bauman, Z. (2011) ‘Is this the end of anonymity? From microdrones to the
internet, technology is invading the private sphere – with our
encouragement’, *The Guardian*, 28 June.

Coleman, E. G. (2010) ‘What it’s like to participate in Anonymous actions’, *
The Atlantic*, December.

Coleman, E. G. (2013) ‘Anonymous and the politics of leaking’, in B.
Brevini *et.al <http://et.al>.* (eds.) *Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for
the future of communications, journalism & society*. Basingstoke: Palgrave

Copeman, J. (2009) ‘Introduction: Blood donation, bioeconomy, culture’, *Body
& Society*, 15 (2): 1-28.

Frois, C. (2009) *The anonymous society: Identity, transformation and
anonymity in 12 steps.* Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Fuchs, C. (2009) *Social networking sites and the surveillance society. A
critical case study of the usage of studiVZ, Facebook, and MySpace by
students in Salzburg in the context of electronic surveillance*. Salzburg /
Vienna: Research Group UTI.

Hirschauer, S. (2004) ‘Peer-Review-Verfahren auf dem Prüfstand. Zum
Soziologiedefizit der Wissenschaftsevaluation’,* Zeitschrift für Soziologie*
, 33 (1): 62-83.

Kerr, I., V. M. Steeves and C. Lucock (eds.) (2009) *Lessons from the
identity trail. Anonymity, pseudonymity, and identity in a networked
society*. Oxford / New York City: Oxford University Press.

Konrad, M. (2005) *Nameless relations. Anonymity, melanesia, and
reproductive gift exchange between British ova donors and recipients*. New
York: Berghahn.

Levin, T. Y., and P. Weibel (eds.) (2002) *CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of
surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother*. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Lock, M. (2001) *Twice dead. Organ transplants and the reinvention of death*.
Oakland: University of California Press.

Marx, G. T. (1999) ‘What’s in a name? Some reflections on the sociology of
anonymity’, * The Information Society*, 15 (2): 99-112.

Nissenbaum, H. (1999) ‘The meaning of anonymity in an information age’, *The
Information Society*, 15(2) 141-144.

Ponesse, J. (2013) ‘Navigating the unknown: Towards a positive conception
of anonymity’, *The Southern Journal of Philosophy*, 51 (3): 320-344.

Rossiter, N. and S. Zehle (2014) ‘Toward a politics of anonymity:
Algorithmic actors in the constitution of collective agency and the
implications for global economic justice movements’, in M. Parker, G.
Cheney, V. Fournier & C. Land (eds.) *Routledge companion to alternative
organizatio**n*. London: Routledge.

Wiedemann, C. (2012) ‘Irrepresentable collectivity. Anonymous and the
technologies of the common’, in G. Cox and C. U. Andersen (eds.) *World of
the news*. Aarhus: Digital Aesthetics Research Centre, Aarhus University.

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