RCA - Reconfiguring Anonymity

Head of Project: Prof. Dr. Michi Knecht
Project Associate:
Amelie Baumann (Sub-project 2)

One of modernity’s most fundamental cultural formations, the way we practice and imagine anonymity, is currently undergoing a profound change. This change has been sparked and advanced by new media-, information-, identification and surveillance technologies. While the questions raised by these transformations are widely debated in public discourse, empirically grounded and theoretically complex examinations of the social dynamics, productivity and dangers of anonymity are still surprisingly scarce.  How do such regimes of anonymity work in daily life? How are they negotiated at the intersections of technologies, infrastructures, practices, and regulations? How can we understand the shifts in contemporary regimes of anonymity? What is lost and what is gained, and for whom?

This project is a transdisciplinary endeavor bringing together social anthropologists, sociologists, media scientists and art historians. It will produce new insights into the ways “regimes of anonymity” are maintained, modified or abandoned in contemporary, hybrid online-offline worlds. “Regimes of anonymity” are situated configurations of social, technical, normative and political elements, in which potentially identifying markers of individuality and difference are dissociated from specific individuals and collectives. We will not only research how such regimes of anonymity emerge, and how they are changed and maintained. We will also look at how they affect central aspects of social and cultural life: Formations of personhood and sociality in general, and reciprocity, identifiability, and accountability in particular.

Regimes of Anonymity will be examined in ethnographic case studies of the production and usage of social media (Sub-project (SP) 1, Leuphana University, Lunenburg), anonymous ova- and sperm-donation practices (SP 2, University of Bremen), infrastructures and usage of identity, health insurance and customer cards (SP 3, University of Hamburg), as well as interactions between police and civilians (SP 4, University of Hamburg). Germany and Great Britain constitute the comparative basis for all case studies, which will be supplemented with case studies conducted in the US and Northern Ireland. In addition, the project experiments with new collaborative forms of knowledge production between project and technical experts, activists and artists (SP 5, Leuphana University, Lunenburg). The resulting theoretical models of the transformation of anonymity regimes will offer new perspectives and answers to questions which we are currently facing on different social, trans- and supra-national levels. They will provide a basis for future political and legal engagements with the topic of anonymity.

Project homepage.

Prof. Dr. Michi Knecht
Institut für Ethnologie und Kulturwissenschaft (IFEK)
Universität Bremen
Enrique-Schmidt-Straße 7 28359 Bremen