[Air-L] Doctoral thesis on the collective identity of the Anonymous movement

Sylvain Firer-Blaess Sylvain.firer at gmail.com
Fri Jun 3 06:37:56 PDT 2016

Dear all,

I indulge in shameless self-publicisation by sharing my newly-published
doctoral thesis, which concerns the collective identity of the Anonymous
movement. It is available here https://goo.gl/ZCy6sP and you can get a hard
copy if you send me your address. If you are incidentally spending your
holidays in Uppsala, Sweden (where else?) on the 26th of August, you can
come to my defense as well. I enclose the abstract below for those

My best regards,
Sylvain Firer-Blaess
PhD cand., dept. of Informatics and Media
Uppsala university, Sweden
sylvain.firer at gmail.com


The present dissertation explores the collective identity of the Anonymous
movement. This movement is characterised by the heterogeneity of its
activities, from meme-crafting to pranks to activist actions, with a wide
range of goals and tactics. Such heterogeneity raises the question as to
why such a diverse group of people makes the decision to act under the same
name. To answer this question, the concept of collective identity is
applied, which describes how participants collectively construct the
definition of their group.

This dissertation is based on a three-year ethnography. The main findings
show that the collective identity of Anonymous rests on five sets of
self-defining concepts related to: 1) Anonymous’ counterculture of offense
and parrhesia, 2) its personification into two personae (the ‘trickster’
and the ‘hero’) that have differing goals, means, and relationships with
the environment, 3) a horizontal organisation and a democratic
decision-making process, 4) practices of anonymity and an ethics of
self-effacement, and 5) its self-definition as a universal entity,
inclusive, and unbounded. The collective identity construction process is
marked by tensions due to the incompatibility of some of these concepts,
but also due to differences between these collective identity definitions
and actual practices. As a consequence, they have to be constantly
reaffirmed through social actions and discourses.

Not all individuals who reclaim themselves as Anonymous recognise the
totality of these collective identity definitions, but they all accept a
number of them that are sufficient to legitimate their own belonging to the
movement, and most of the time to be recognised by others as such. The
different groups constituting Anonymous are therefore symbolically linked
through a web of collective identity definitions rather than an
encompassing and unified collective identity. This ‘connective identity’
gives the movement a heterogeneous composition while at the same time
permitting it to retain a sense of identity that explains the use of a
collective name.

More information about the Air-L mailing list