Sal Hagen | “Is this /ourguy/?”: Tracing Political Identity Formation within Anonymous Online Subcultures | University of Amsterdam, departement Media Studies | Bernhard Rieder, Marc Tuters | 1 October 2019 – 1 October 2023 | s.h.hagen[at]uva.nl
This research will engage with the question on how shared practices of cultural production can function as forms of political identification within anonymous online subcultures. In recent years, anonymous and pseudonymous websites have been described as forming a vanguard in an ongoing “online culture war”. While this has bestowed these websites with political relevance, there has been a lack of research into the techno-cultural dynamics that structure these obscure communities. Are users merely seeking thrills, or are they developing more serious political sensibilities? To illuminate this problem, the proposed research project will study the perpetually reposted and remixed digital artefacts that are claimed to be central to the coherence of these faceless subcultures. It argues that the use of apparently trivial artefacts like “memes” can be interpreted as new and understudied modes of political identity formation. Observing these uses may thus provide windows into what “collectivises” these communities. To that end, the project will conduct a comparative analysis of three politically divergent spaces: Tumblr, Reddit and 4chan. It develops an interdisciplinary mixed methods approach that creates and applies data capturing and analysis tools for these three platforms to first identify the changing use of these digital artefacts. Key moments derived from these computational methods will then form the basis for “netnographies” that analyse the signifying practices of the use of these images, catchphrases, and slang expressions. In short, the project traces and scrutinises usage of digital objects to understand the processes of collective political identification within anonymous online subcultures.