Irrepresentable Collectivity. Anonymous and the Technologies of the Common*

in: Cox, Geoff/Andersen, Christian Ulrik (Hg.): Worlf of the News – The World`s Greatest Peer-reviewed Newspaper of in/compatible research, transmediale/Digital Aesthetics Research Centre, Aarhus University


“Hackergroup“, “hacktivist organization“, “cyber terrorists“, that is how many journalists have described 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 But the outdated descriptions in the newspapers don`t capture a new phenomenon: Anonymous is not a group that can be defined by its members or leaders and it has no roster or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 theorize processes of collaborative constitution within the so called social media, and to conceive a 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”, “the women” and “the socialists”. It rejects current manifestations of the organization of representative democracy, representation as speaking on behalf of others and categories that form a unified ‘we’, an identitarian collective subject and exclude the ‚other’. 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 actu – 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 the concept of the multitude (..) and specifies this theorem: In terms of the multitude there is as for example Eugene Thacker pointed out the central question of how the common can be produced while respecting the difference between the singularities without (re)producing hierarchies (vgl. z.B. Thacker 2009: 63). Anonymous answers: If you communicate and cooperate anonymously online.

And indeed this sort of anonymity could avoid that identifiable initiators and regular users decide what 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 dispositives of communication (Deleuze) and the biopolitics of software (Galloway/Thacker) in which the machinic and the human become entrenched and impossible to disassociate (Haraway 2004). 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 the 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 wrote about the „beyond representation“ and „the common“ in the recent years and asked how non-representational politics may look like (vgl. Tsianos/Papadopoulos 2008: 253). If the modes of control, power and production in the age of networks are taken into account Anonymous allows to discuss ideas of a new collectivity as a challenge and dislocation of relations of domination and an escape of mental border regimes and boundaries. This new collectivity inspires to (re)think the constitution of the social/political beyond antagonism and creates new narratives that might transform traditional representations and identity politics.


* Soenke Zehle was the first who used the term ‘Technologies of the Common’ in his article ‘Technologies of the Common: Towards an Ethics of Collaborative Constitution’ in 2007

08. February 2012 by carolinwiedemann
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