Logo of “Anonymous”

It all began with a blog post back in 2012 entitled “Anonymous’ Boundaries: Expelling by Exposing” that I had prepared prior to a workshop on “organization as communication“. It describes how the so-called “hacker collective” Anonymous had expelled one of its self-identified members by exposing its full name, address and other contact information. The closing paragraph of this post reads as follows:

Of course, Anonymous is an extreme case. But exactly because of its distinctiveness I think there is a lot to learn about organizing practices in general.

After the workshop I teamed up with Dennis Schoeneborn and together we tried to harvest the explanatory potential of the case. Our joint efforts resulted in the paper “Fluidity, Identity and Organizationality: The Communicative Constitution of Anonymous”, which is now available as a pre-print version at Journal of Management Studies:

This paper examines how fluid social collectives, where membership is latent, contested, or unclear, achieve “organizationality”, that is, how they achieve organizational identity and actorhood. Drawing on the “communicative constitution of organizations” perspective, we argue that the organizationality of a social collective is accomplished through “identity claims”—i.e., speech acts that concern what the social collective is or does—and negotiations on whether or not these claims have been made on the collective’s behalf. We empirically examine the case of the hacker collective Anonymous and analyze relevant identity claims to investigate two critical episodes in which the organizationality of Anonymous was contested. Our study contributes to organization studies by showing that fluid social collective are able to temporarily reinstate organizational actorhood through the performance of carefully prepared and staged identity claims.

In case you are interested in the paper and your institution does not provide access to it, please contact me via e-mail.