Archive for publications, October 2016

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[ecrea] new (PhD) publication: The Collective Identity of Anonymous

Sun Oct 02 16:19:52 GMT 2016

New (PhD) publication:

The Collective Identity of Anonymous. Web of Meanings in a Digitally Enabled Movement
by Sylvain Firer-Blaess

Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Uppsala Studies in Media and Communication, nr. 12, 220 pages
ISBN 978-91-554-9602-9


For an open access electronic version of this PhD thesis, go to:

To order a print version, please visit the webshop of Uppsala University, and go to the Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis book series (and the Uppsala Studies in Media and Communication sub-series). The direct link is:

For other Uppsala University Media and Communication PhD theses, visit:



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.

Sylvain Firer-Blaess, PhD
Lecturer in liberal arts and economics
ICOGES Rhône-Alpes
11 bis boulevard Vivier Merle 69003 Lyon, France
(sylvain.firer /at/ <mailto:(sylvain.firer /at/>

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