Gabriella Coleman “Geek Politics and Anonymous: From the Offensive Internet to Human Rights Activism”

Thursday Mar.  3, 2011 –  5:30 PM Arts W215

Abstract: Over the last three years, Anonymous went from Internet pranking and trolling to a narrowly focused protest movement against the Church of Scientology ( to one that has now emerged in more general registers to protest censorship, attracting many geeks and hackers to its ranks, some who have entered the arena of politics for the first time. In this talk I will examine the transformations and tactics of the digitally-based protest movement—Anonymous— to examine various political  and ethical facets of their operations, including their rhizomatic social organization, the ways they enact an ethics around their denial of service attacks, and the ways in which they are rooted in and parlay liberal commitments such as anonymity and free speech. In so doing, I will also visit a range of theorists entertaining the cultural politics of anonymity, spectacle, the commodification of dissent, and trolling in order to grasp  the political and cultural significance of Anonymous.

Biography: Trained as an anthropologist, Gabriella (Biella) Coleman examines the ethics of online collaboration/institutions as well as the role of the law and digital media in sustaining various forms of political activism. Between 2001-2003 she conducted ethnographic research on computer hackers primarily in San Francisco, the Netherlands, as well as those hackers who work on the largest free software project, Debian ( She is completing a book manuscript “Coding Freedom: Hacker Pleasure and the Ethics of Free and Open Source Software” (under contract with Princeton University Press) and is starting a new project on peer to peer patient activism on the Internet. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including ones from the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. She is on leave during the 2010-2011 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

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