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Contemporary Political Theory





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The increased use of anonymous digital platforms raises substantive concerns about accountability in digital spaces. However, contemporary evaluations of anonymity focus too narrowly on its protective function: its ability to protect a diversity of speakers and ideas. Drawing on two examples of anonymous political engagements – Publius’s writing of the Federalist Papers and college students’ use of the social media platform Yik Yak – we develop an account of anonymity’s associational function: the processes by which people generate and negotiate collective identities, discussions, and actions in wider publics. As we argue, anonymity’s associational function can (1) generate conditions under which individuals develop collective interests and identities to foster collective action, and (2) enable novel interactions between these individuals and communities and the larger publics of which they are part. We conclude with a discussion of how attention to associational anonymity can contribute to a more nuanced account of democracy in practice.


Author Posting © Springer, 2020. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Springer for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 19, November 2020.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.