Irrepresentable Collectivity

Carolin Wiedemann

“Hackergroup,” “hacktivist organisation,” “cyber terrorists,” this is how many journalists describe 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 But the outdated descriptions in the newspapers don’t fully capture the new phenomenon: Anonymous is not a group that can be defined by its members or leaders and it has no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. Anonymous inspires an approach to theorise processes of collaboration within the so-called social media, and to conceive of collectivity between the logics of swarms, networks and multitudes constituted by human and non-human actors.

Anonymous pretends to be a collectivity without leaders; that all humans can be part of, that there are no criteria for being anonymous. “We are all anonymous,” it shouts as it associates and attacks. Within the processes of online (co)operation, a rhetoric of inclusion is activated that undermines traditional logics of representation by creating new logics of relation. The spontaneous figure of inclusion works differently than traditional identities of inclusion and representation like the ‘Italians’, ‘women’ and ‘Socialists’. It rejects current manifestations of the organisation of representative democracy; representation as speaking on behalf of others, and categories that form a unified ‘we’. The momentary representation of Anonymous is based on its brief appearance. It unifies emergence and existence, and exists never as fully constituted but only in the process of constitution – it is only in the communication. In an “Open letter to the World,” Anonymous says: “We have begun telling each other our own stories. Sharing our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our demons. (…) We are not so different as we may seem.” Anonymous reminds us of Spinoza’s concept of the multitude and specifies this theorem: In terms of the multitude there is, for example, as Eugene Thacker pointed out, the central question of how the common can be produced while respecting difference. Anonymous answers: you communicate and cooperate anonymously online.

And indeed this sort of anonymity could avoid those identifiable initiators and what regular users decide is to be said and seen, and therefore conserve power structures. But the space that Anonymous emerges in is nevertheless structured by an architecture of code and protocol, by the dispositifs of communication and the biopolitics of software (Galloway), in which the machinic and the human become entrenched and impossible to disassociate (Haraway). Anonymous emerges in, and as, a convoluted interplay of protocols, cultural practices and technical infrastructures. Questions of the digital divide, of who and what can be part of the flow of communication have to be taken into account and have to be expanded and upgraded. The famous question by postcolonial thinker Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak “Can the subaltern speak?“ is not only a question of access to sound and to computers that might transform tones into letters on the internet but rather a question of the position, of situating and the hegemonies within communication, thus a question of exclusions that are still produced even if all people seem to have equal voices and votes when communicating anonymously.

Many theorists have written about the concept “beyond representation“ and “the common“ in recent years, and asked what non-representational politics may look like (Tsianos and Papadopoulos, 253). If the modes of control, power and production in the age of networks are taken into account, Anonymous allows us to discuss ideas of new forms of collectivity as a challenge and dislocation of relations of domination and as an escape of mental border regimes and boundaries. This new collectivity inspires us to (re)think the constitution of the social/political beyond antagonism and creates new narratives that might transform logics of representations, and thus the conception of research and of knowledge production.

Works cited

Galloway, Alexander R. Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2004. Print.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. 1991. 149-181. Print

Thacker, Eugene. “Networks, Swarms, Multitudes.” Ctheory. (2004). Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=422>

Spinoza, Baruch. A Theologico-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise. New York: Dover Publications. 1951. Print.

Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the subaltern speak?” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. London: Macmillan. 1988. 271–313. Print.

Papadopoulos, Dimitris and Vassilis Tsianos. “How to Do Sovereignty without People? The Subjectless Condition of Postliberal Power.” Boundary 2 34.1 (Spring 2007): 135-172. Print.
 

KEY QUOTE:

Anonymous inspires an approach to theorise processes of collaboration within the so-called social media, and to conceive of collectivity between the logics of swarms, networks and multitudes constituted by human and non-human actors.

Anonymous emerges in, and as, a convoluted interplay of protocols, cultural practices and technical infrastructures.

This new collectivity inspires us to (re)think the constitution of the social/political beyond antagonism and creates new narratives that might transform logics of representations, and thus the conception of research and of knowledge production.

 

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