Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Anonymous and the virtual collective: Visuality and social movements in cyberspace
by Burford, Caitlyn M. R., M.A., Northern Arizona University, 2013, 138; 1550096
Abstract (Summary)

In 2008, a group of masked protesters stood in front of the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles to protest the organization's censorship on the Internet (Knapperberger, 2012). This protest was the first collectivized, localized, and material manifestation of the group Anonymous, a loosely coordinated decentralized group of Internet based-activists that began on the web. Amidst increasing regulation of the Internet, Anonymous is a key subject to watch to determine how contemporary social movements will unfold with the introduction of cyberspace as a place of organization and performance. To provide a foundation for this study, I review social movement theory in the U.S. with an emphasis on visual imagery in protests. While traditional movements relied on public collective action (Bowers, Ochs, & Jenson, 1993), new social movement theory assumes movements rely on private and individual reclamation of identity (Buechler, 1999, 2000). Anonymous fits into neither theory but takes aspects from both, challenging social movement theory to go further and account for the Internet-driven conditions that change the nature of the protester, revealing anonymity and appropriation of images as two distinct markers of contemporary social movements, as initially depicted in the use of the Guy Fawkes mask. Next, I look at geographies of place and how protest changes in cyberspace based on the images that emerge, giving the group aesthetic control over their social construction. Mirzoeff's (2011) analysis of visualized authority explains how Anonymous creates a countervisual to the state control of aesthetic reality by guiding is visual representations. DeLuca and Peeples' (2002) concept of the public screen addresses the promulgation of protest images, which become the primary rhetoric of the movement and a means to establish aesthetic credibility. Anonymous exists as a character in a disembodied cyber-world, with the media creating myths of embodied protesters. Through Bahktin's (1981) analysis of the chronotope, I study the spatio-temporal relationships of traditional social movements and how Anonymous challenges those relationships by establishing new chronotopes that influence contemporary movements. Emerging chronotopes break down the distinction between the protester and the hacker, the public and private dichotomy, and allow for contemporary protesters to break out of these conditions and inhabit a space of legitimacy. Anonymous offers a case study for the future of contemporary social movements that will take place in cyberspace in an era characterized by a struggle over information in a virtual world. Because social movements are no longer primarily defined by traditional media outlets, Anonymous shows how protesters can determine their own aesthetic reality. The chronotopes that emerge speak to the movement's ability to expand social movement theory as both a public and private operation, functioning outside of state suppression tactics and normative restraints. As the chronotopes become recognizable by the public, Anonymous gains leverage in defining its own genre of social movements. Anonymous is a performance without a distinct beginning and end, but operates as an evolving ideological position. The visual realities that emerge into the material world may provide further insight into how the state will allow (or disallow) social movements to occur.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rogers, Richard A.
Commitee: Jones, Janna, Neumann, Mark
School: Northern Arizona University
Department: Communication
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: MAI 52/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Communication, Web Studies, Mass communications
Keywords: Anonymous, Chronotope, Cyberspace, Protest, Social movements, Visuality
Publication Number: 1550096
ISBN: 978-1-303-64050-6
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