Lessons in Fluidity: Anonymous and the Communicative Formation of Organizatonal Identity


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Talk given at the 63rd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, June 17-21, 2013, London

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Lessons in Fluidity: Anonymous and the Communicative Formation of Organizatonal Identity

  1. 1. Lessons in FluidityAnonymous and the CommunicativeFormation of Organizational IdentityLeonhard DobuschFreie Universität Berlin“We are Anonymous.We are Legion.We do not forgive.We do not forget.Expect us.”Dennis SchoenebornUniversity of Zurich/Copenhagen Business School
  2. 2. Essentialist vs. processual viewson organizational identityTwo main positions on organizational identity:!  Essentialist views: identity as “some entity”(Goia et al. 2013)!  Processual views: Shift to identity formation(Schultz & Hernes 2013)Two observations regarding this literature:!  Member-centered explanations prevail!  Black box of co-evolution between identity and image(“inextricably intertwined relationship”; Goia et al. 2010)Leonhard Dobusch & Dennis SchoenebornBut how is identity formed in organizations with unclearmembership and fluid organizational boundaries?
  3. 3. Boundary maintenancethrough communicativeacts (e.g., membershipnegotiation)Past events(or channels)as decision premisesIdentity formationthrough public (auto-)communicationcommunicationprocessesA communication-centered lens helpscomprehend identity in most fluid settingsLeonhard Dobusch & Dennis Schoeneborn
  4. 4. We investigate the case of thehacker collective “Anonymous“!  Organization of anonymous “hacktivists”;self-description as “collective” or “hive”!  Emerged as „meme“ in image boards such as „4chan“ in2006, turned political over time…!  Several “operations” attacking diverse targets!  Data Collection!  Event histories provided by Wikipedia!  Twitter feeds, blogs, forums, and media articles!  Interviews with self-declared Anonymous activists(not yet included in paper)!  Empirical puzzle!  Anonymous cannot draw on identity of its members!  Who cannot speak on behalf of Anonymous?Leonhard Dobusch & Dennis Schoeneborn
  5. 5. Phase I PhaseIIPhaseIIILeonhard Dobusch & Dennis SchoenebornLately, occurrence of hacker attackswith unclear attribution to Anonymous
  6. 6. Episode 1 – “Operation Westboro“:Substitute sources of identity formation!  February 2011:!  Spokeswomen of Westboro Baptist Church claims tohave received an open threat letter by Anonymous!  Anonymous renounces authorship via Twitter!  Media response:!  “Why should the second open letter be given anymore credence than the first?”!  Radio interview with self-declared Anonymousactivist, who hacked WBC homepage “on air”Leonhard Dobusch & Dennis SchoenebornLacking clear membership, communication channels servedas functionally equivalent sources of identity formation
  7. 7. Episode 2 – “Operation Facebook”: Theperformative power of excommunication!  August 2011!  Threat to take down Facebook on Nov. 5 2011!  Tweet that this was some guys idea of a joke!  November 2011!  Initiator of Operation Facebook gets exposed!  „One skiddy queer chap named Anthony [last nameredacted]“Leonhard Dobusch & Dennis Schoeneborn“Excommunication” by revealing individual identity as“last resort” of communicative boundary maintenance
  8. 8. Contributions to the literatureOrganizational identity:!  Strengthening processual views on identity formation byemphasizing the importance of meaning negotiation andattribution of actorhood through communicationFluid organizational settings:!  Transcending member-centered views on identity;communication-centered lens allows to overcomeduality of identity and imageOrganizational communication:!  Excommunication practices at the expense of individualidentity as a means for boundary maintenanceLeonhard Dobusch & Dennis Schoeneborn
  9. 9. Thank you.