Reclaiming and using perjorative identities

The concept of collective identity has been a persistent one in my recent research. Using Poletta and Jasper’s article as a jumping off point, I’m going to here parse through some thoughts on hacktivist identity.
In my research, I identify the hacker stereotype or “media metaphor” that has become a fixture in the popular discourse about the internet, computers and computer crime.  This figure, usually embodied as a white, male, middle class adolescent, has become a boogey man of the technologically mediated society.  He’s depicted as immature, socially awkward, alienated, vindictive, and what Paul Ohm calls a “Superuser,” or someone with almost magical abilities to control computers and the network.  He is ubiquitous and decentralized, thus allowing him to be a global threat without ever leaving his parent’s basement.  This metaphorical figure is problematic because, promoted by media coverage and those entities with interests in promoting a heavy cybersecurity agenda (such as the defense industry and the commercial cybersecurity sector), he is the target of and the justification for increasingly invasive information security public policy.  These policies have a huge effect on the every day users of computers and the network, as more and more computer-mediated actions become socially suspect, if not outright illegal.
Hacktivist communities, and groups like Anonymous and LulzSec in particular, have often seized upon aspects of this metaphor, particularly the aspects of decentralized, anonymized threat and juvenile/adolescent humor and language in order to manipulate their image in the media and aid in recruitment.  The attention the mainstream media has lavished on such groups is, I think, in part due to this overt theatricality, and willingness to play into a known type, albeit with a large wink.
This opens up a plethora of issues when considering the role of metaphors in media and the usurpation of those metaphors by movements.  I’m wondering how similar this phenomenon is to “word reclamation” efforts, like those of the GLBTQ community to reclaim the word “queer” or feminist communities to reclaim the word “slut.”  Both of these efforts are about reclaiming a pejorative to serve a positive function in movement identity.  The actions structured around the reclamation of the “slut” identity are also strategically media driven.
My central question in this is, “Is the direct engagement and adoption of performative aspects of the hacker metaphor/stereotype by groups like Anonymous problematic?” I would argue that it is, given the willingness of the state and corporate interests to continue to legislate and regulate the online space in reaction to the hacker stereotype.  However, it does serve its purpose of drawing intense media attention, which in turn supports the performative identity’s use as a recruiting tool.  Suffice to say, it is a complicated issue, and one which I will be thinking a great deal about in the future.  Poletta and Jasper have provided a useful framework upon which to begin that analysis.


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