Using Melucci’s Model of Collective Identity and Action System Today: The Case of the Hacktivist Movement Anonymous

  • Abstract:

    This paper discusses the popular model of collective identity of Alberto Melucci, how it has been used in the academia, what are its shortcomings and how they can be superseded. Melucci’s collective identity model is almost always referred to in academic publications dealing with collective identity in social movements. Yet, the model is never fully used. The present article focuses on the part of the model that is most of the time overlooked, that is the ‘action system’. Theoretical limitations that can be imputed on this concept seem to have lead scholars of collective identity to avoid mentioning it. However, acknowledging its existence, its limitations and attempting to alleviate them can prove useful to the study of social movements. To highlight this I use my previous work on the hacktivist movement Anonymous. The collective identity model of Alberto Melucci encompasses three things: the feeling of the participants to be part of the collective, the interactions between these participants, and the action system, that is the different ideas participants have to define their movements and their relationships with one another. The study of Anonymous’ action system permits to understand how Anonymous participants consider themselves as a collective even if they can partake in actions widely different from each other. It can also explain the main divisions within the movement. However in Anonymous—as well as in many other social movements—the action system is not the only content of its collective identity, and the sole use of Melucci’s model renders the study incomplete. To alleviate this problem, it is however possible to add different types of collective identity definitions that are compatible with Melucci’s model. Definitions of anonymity and self-organisation are such examples in Anonymous. Eventually, to offer an augmented version of Melucci’s model permits to benefit from the explanatory power of the action system while superseding its shortcomings.