(Un)disciplined Performativity: Anonymity, Identity, and Governmentality on Yik Yak

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Curlew, Kyle
Anonymity , Governmentality , Identity , Social Media , Sociology , Surveillance
Anonymous social media platforms, like Yik Yak, have been at the center of public controversies surrounding the proliferation of trolling, bullying, and gendered and racialized violence. This has led to a renewed scholarly attention to forms of anonymity and pseudonymity deployed in cyber-spaces that allow users to post content without attachment to their identity. This project has employed the use of qualitative and ethnographic methods to develop a case-study to explore two layers of empirical analysis: (1) as an empirical extension of post-structuralist theory, this project demonstrates how social actors engage in (un)disciplined performativity that allow users to share user-generated content as identity performance separated from their overall reputation and (2) explore how (un)disciplined users are regulated through various forms of vernacular and institutional governmentalities. In combining these two layers, I seek to understand how anonymity is performed, how anonymous regimes stabilize, re-stabilize, and through controversy, destabilize, and theorize how this constellation of performative acts and regulatory features are embedded within a larger political economy of Yik Yak. Performative anonymity exists within a sprawling set of collectives defined by unwritten and (un)disciplined norms, values, and creative content which are all captured in a wider surveillant assemblage. The results of this case-study reveal that though anonymity and pseudonymity inevitably feature a proliferation of trolling and e-bile, it also hosts users who may engage in forms of entertainment, caretaking, and/or a flight from social stigmatization. This project positions itself to oppose the imposition of a “real name” web advocated by Facebook and Google, and to maintain more efficiently moderated anonymous spaces for those who need to escape exposure to the constant gaze of friends, family, and strangers.
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