Call for Papers: Anonymity: Past, Present and Futures Unknown

Barbara Hepworth Room, Staff House (Campus Map R24)
Friday 1 March 2019 (09:00-16:00)

Please send abstracts (no more than 250 words) to


This is a call for papers for the upcoming IAS Workshop:  Anonymity: Past, Present and Futures Unknown, on 13-14 June 2019. 

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to the organisers, Professor Jonathan Reinarz and Dr Rebecca Wynter, at by 1 March 2019.

Anonymity has become a defining feature of twenty-first century culture. Shortly after 2000, an international network of anonymous activists, or hacktivists, became widely known for online coordinated attacks, as well as their trademark ‘Guy Fawkes’ masks, adopted from V for Vendetta, Alan Moore’s graphic novel about dystopian government.  Within a decade, the group Anonymous was included in Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people (2012), perhaps the first time anyone anonymous has featured on the list. With the multitude of threats posed by internet security and urban living, the public is daily reminded to be vigilant in protecting their anonymity and identity.  The global network, however, was not designed for anonymity, with each user assigned a specific IP address. Recent discussions about online bullying have developed sign-in policies to build safety and prevent the more extreme comments – should similar methods be introduced for academic peer reviewing, or even student feedback? Given the fallout from faceless attacks and manipulations on social media, are these methods sufficient to protect and defend people, society and facts?

At times we feel the need to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons, when voting or painting graffiti for example – while other times the reverse is true, as when identity cards are issued to those who need to drive or to seek food or shelter.  Alternatively, charitable donors often consider whether to donate publically or anonymously. While it seems people must strive ever harder to remain non-identifiable, unreachable and untrackable, cultural shifts are making this more difficult to attain. The tensions between rights of ordinary citizens to remain incognito and the threats posed by hidden criminals and state actors have been with us for centuries, but have shifted historically with changing philosophy, governmentality, geography, demographics, media, technology, and concepts of risk. This two-day workshop aims to bring together scholars from the widest array of disciplines to discuss both familiar and novel contexts related to anonymity and explore the way in which this concept is rooted in almost everything we do and are as humans.   

The workshop will begin with a keynote by Gabrielle Coleman (McGill, Canada), whose book on Anonymous has become the defining study of the hacktivist group. We invite presentations on anonymity from a diverse range of subjects, including, but not limited to, Philosophy, Politics, Law, Literature, Medicine, Media, Business, History, Sociologists, Architecture and Engineering. Alongside these papers, we aim to commission an ‘anonymous’ work of street art that will happen in real time during the event. Other proposed outputs include an edited collection with an academic publisher on the workshop topic.

Suggested topics for 20-minute papers include, but are not restricted to:

  • Pseudonym, nom de plume and nom de guerre
  • Poison pen letters, lonely hearts columns, and anonymity in the media
  • Anonymous demands and complaints
  • Clothing, costume, disguise and camouflage
  • Legal anonymity and witness protection
  • Addiction and recovery groups
  • Political writing and movements
  • Case notes, case reports and patient records
  • Feedback, data protection, privacy, and the ‘right to be forgotten’
  • Closed adoptions, women’s refuges, and unknown parents
  • Institutional and individual use of anonymity
  • Law, gagging and identity
  • Cryptocurrency and anonymous trading, banking and exchanges
  • Hacks, hackers and trolls
  • Whistleblowers, spies, sources and codenames
  • Secret societies and public masquerades
  • Crime, genocide, obliterating identity, and forensic identification
  • Faceless and nameless people – ‘migrants’, ‘the poor’, ‘the homeless’
  • Loss of anonymity, leaks, betrayal and final confessions