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[ecrea] CFP: Watchful Citizens: Policing from Below and Digital Vigilantism
Thu Mar 09 14:26:52 GMT 2017
CFP: Watchful Citizens: Policing from Below and Digital Vigilantism
Université de Montréal, 2-3 November 2017
In Europe and America, political mobilizations have emboldened citizens
to monitor and harass individuals based on categories of suspicion, for
instance illegal aliens. These mobilizations in turn have spawned
counter-movements seeking to render perpetrators of hate- speech and
harassment visible and accountable. Depending on the cause defended and
the political context, governments may explicitly or implicitly support
citizen groups that publicize and denounce suspected wrongdoing by other
Digital media cultures facilitate the sharing of evidence of offensive
acts, but also the shaming of targeted individuals and a broader
moralising against criminal or otherwise undesirable populations.
Visibility, as manifest through the public and open distribution of a
target’s personal details, stands as a central feature of contemporary
What is new with digital vigilantism? If the digital sphere is
definitely a crucial aspect of this visibility, one also has to consider
a more profound transformation in societal participation, or how the
population relates to and perceives its authorities when social,
political, cultural, religious, national and security issues are at
stake. As shown in assessments of late modernity, liberal and
neo-liberal politics have deputized citizens by rendering them
responsible for their own security, social order and fate, thus leading
to a distributed regulatory network rather than strictly top-down
governance of society (Bayley & Shearing, 2001). Yet deputized
citizens are not only following their authorities’ recommendations; they
are also self-directed in what they consider the good march of society.
According to Walsh’s argument (Walsh, 2014), such a transformation in
societal participation led to a shift from a deputization to an
autonomization paradigm, referring to the voluntary, or self-appointed,
involvement of citizens in the regulatory gatekeeping network. This
refers to grassroots mobilization, rather than governments mobilising
the public, with groups of citizens spontaneously aligning themselves
with authorities’ arms and objectives (Walsh, 2008). Autonomization also
refers here to a context in which an ideal-typical state claims to
monopolize law enforcement functions, in contrast to groups acting
strictly autonomously, or as challengers of state law enforcement
However, underlying these transformations should not lead to
underestimate historical continuities with classical forms of citizens’
involvement in denunciation, law enforcement and vigilante justice. One
of the most recurrent forms of autonomization is vigilantism as a form
of societal participation. Even if it is formally unsolicited,
vigilantism represents an outgrowth of state activity” (2014: 249).
According to Walsh, “while operating without official authorization, the
organizations do not perceive their actions as overriding or
transgressing the local order but construct themselves as self-anointed
guardians rescuing national sovereignty, citizenship and the law’s moral
sanctity, from cultural elites, moneyed interests, inept bureaucrats and
a sclerotic state” (2014: 249).
According to Favarel-Garrigues and Gayer, vigilantism may be defined as
“collective coercive practices undertaken by non-state actors in order
to enforce norms (social or judicial) and/or to take the law in their
own hands – a term that mostly refers to punishing, but also to societal
ideals. In targeting the offenders that are external to their community,
but also their own offenders, vigilantes are both involved in the fight
against crime and social control. Their activities are known because
they either are conducted in public, in the name of a community of
reference, or because the witnesses to more secretly conducted punishing
expeditions spread the information and nourish the group’s reputation”
(Favarel-Garrigues & Gayer, 2016: 17).
If pioneers’ work established a first definition of vigilantism based on
history (Brown, 1975; Abrahams, 1998; Johnston, 1996), more recent
sociological and anthropological works have focused on vigilante
practices and activities on the field (Favarel-Garrigues & Gayer, 2016;
Pratten & Sen, 2007). More specifically, and considering the recent
developments in media and communication, we want to focus on the impacts
and interactions between vigilantism and the digital sphere. On this
matter, Daniel Trottier defines digital vigilantism as “ a process where
citizens are collectively offended by other citizen activity, and
respond through coordinated retaliation on digital media platforms,
including mobile devices and social media platforms. The offending acts
range from mild breaches of social protocol to terrorist acts and
participation in riots. These offensive acts are not meant as a
provocation in the context in which vigilantism is situated. Therefore,
the targets of digital vigilantism are typically unaware of the conflict
in which they have been enrolled” (Trottier, 2015:
Digital vigilantism refers, but is not limited, to a basic principle of
“naming and shaming”, or through a ‘weaponisation of visibility’, that
is sharing the target’s personal details by publishing/distributing them
on public sites (‘doxing’). According to Trottier: “The visibility
produced through digital vigilantism is unwanted (the target is
typically not soliciting publicity) intense (content like blog posts,
photos and videos evidence circulate to hundreds of thousands or even
millions of users within a few days) and enduring (the vigilantism
campaign may be the first item to appear when searching the individual’s
name online, and may become a cultural reference in its own right)”
(Trottier, 2015: 219). He then argues that: “the emergence of social,
geolocated, ubiquitous media has led to a dissolution to any such
barrier, to the extent that digital media activity can have lasting
consequences in both a local and global context” (Trottier, 2015: 220).
Digital vigilantism implies a paradigm shift with regard to the context
in which digital media are used, pointing to the end of a yet
well-established distinction between online activity and offline
consequences (Trottier, 2015; 2016; Reagle, 2015). Digital communication
comes with “context collapse”, where the “lack of spatial, social, and
temporal boundaries makes it difficult to maintain distinct social
contexts” (boyd, 2008: 34). As Reagle puts it: “ Comment’s reactivity,
shortness, and asynchronicity mean that it is especially contextual but
that its context also is easily
lost as it is forwarded and retweeted” (Reagle, 2015: 79).
The coming workshop, which will launch the International Center for
Comparative Criminology’s 2017-2018 scientific season, will focus on
digital vigilantism. Considering both the raising of the autonomization
paradigm and the digital sphere, we will address the impacts of such
dimensions on the practices, activities and dynamics of vigilantism, but
also how vigilantism and the autonomization of societal practices with
regard to gatekeeping and social control impacts vigilantism. As
examples of communications, we would welcome propositions addressing
(but not limited to) the following issues:
- How do vigilantes promote and enforce their norms and/or values in
practice using digital media?
- How do digital media help, transform and contribute to the
coordination of embodied activities in the context of vigilante activities?
- How do digital media contribute to the renegotiation and reassertion
of collective (ex: nationalist) identities in the context of vigilante
- How can scholarship contribute to a better understanding of the
relation between on- and offline in the context of vigilante activities?
- What link can we draw between digital vigilantism and the social,
political and economic discourses of the vigilantes?
- Aside from mediated visibility as social harm, what other outcomes
might targets or participants of digital vigilantism face in consequence?
- How can we (re)imagine relations between states (broadly defined to
include law enforcement agencies) and vigilant(e) citizens beyond
frameworks of contestation/substitution/complementarity?
- How are digital vigilantism initiatives related to official
law-enforcement institutions (cooperation/challenge/conflict)?
- How is mediated visibility understood by vigilantes (but also other
relevant social actors such as states, journalists and digital media
platforms) as a means to combat criminal and otherwise offensive acts?
- How are specific mediated acts such as online shaming and ‘doxing’
both leveraged and rendered meaningful in the context of vigilante
- How can we articulate social control (low crime) and societal control
(high crime) with regard to digital vigilantism?
- What do we know about the commercial dimension of digital vigilantism?
- How are digital vigilantism initiatives related to existing political
parties, social movements, associations, lobbies or private firms?
- How do the vigilantes communicate about their activity on the web? How
do they show their campaigns on Youtube? How do they edit the videos
- What do vigilantes defend? Legal norms, moral prescriptions, own
values and interests?
The workshop will take place at Université de Montréal, 2-3 November
2017. Proposals should include a title, a clear identification of the
author(s), as well as an affiliation and should be no longer than
500-600 words. Proposals may be grounded in different academic and
disciplinary perspectives including, but not limited to sociology,
political science, anthropology, criminology, media studies, history.
They should be sent to (samuel.tanner /at/ umontreal.ca)
<mailto:(samuel.tanner /at/ umontreal.ca)> by 22nd May 2017.
Authors will receive an answer by 1st July 2017.
Gilles Favarel- Garrigues (SciencesPo – CERI)
Daniel Trottier (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Samuel Tanner (Université de Montréal – International Center for
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