Hacktivism and Habermas: Online Protest as Neo-Habermasian Counterpublicity
Thesis DisciplineMedia and Communication
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis both draws from and contributes to the ongoing project of critiquing and reconstructing the theory of the public sphere; an undertaking that has been characterised as both valuable and necessary by Fraser (2005: 2) and many others. The subsection of theory variously described as ‘postmodern’, ‘radical’, or ‘agonistic’ informs an intensive practical and theoretical critique of the pre- and post-‘linguistic turn’ iterations of the Habermasian ideal, before culminating in the articulation of a concise and operationalisable ‘neo-Habermasian’ public sphere ideal. This revised model retains the Habermasian public sphere as its core, but expands and sensitizes it, moving away from normative preoccupations with decision-making in order to effectively comprehend issues of power and difference, and to allow publicness “to navigate through wider and wilder territory” (Ryan, 1992: 286).
This theoretical framework is then mobilised through a critical discourse analytical approach, exploring three cases of hacktivist counterpublicity, and revealing the emergence of a multivalent, multimodal discourse genre capable of threatening and fracturing hegemony. The case studies are selected using Samuel’s (2004) taxonomy of hacktivism, and explore the ‘political coding’ group, Hacktivismo; the Creative Freedom Foundation and the ‘performative hacktivism’ of their New Zealand Internet Blackout; and the ‘political cracking’ operations carried out by Anonymous in protest against the Australian government’s proposed Internet filter.
The analysis focuses on how the discursive form and content of hacktivism combines to function counterhegemonically; that is, how hacktivists work to provoke widespread political preference reflection and fracture the hegemony of the publics they are oriented against. This approach generates a fruitful feedback loop between theory and empirical data, in that it enriches and extends our understanding of new modes of counterpublicity, as well as providing a detailed account of the under-researched yet increasingly widespread phenomenon of hacktivism.