New Modes of Intellectual Life in the Network Society

Jessica Lang

Major Professor: Hugh Gusterson, PhD, CHSSWeb Design 3

Committee Members: Tim Gibson, Dina Copelman

Enterprise Hall, #318
December 09, 2015, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


In the contemporary network society— a dynamic system organized and structured around information and communication technologies that mediate an ever-growing number of social, political, and economic practices— the world’s population has never been so educated or had at its disposal such extensive access to diverse knowledge-flows.  Yet despite major gains in both general and higher education and the unprecedented opportunities that networks present, there remains a lack of sustained analysis that considers the impact of new media and digital networks on modern day intellection.  As a corrective to this, this dissertation examines the Anonymous network, as well as the 4chan imageboard from which Anonymous emerged, to explore the status of intellectual life today and the ways in which networks are using technology and leveraging changes in media structures to create alternative discourses and recast the terms of public debate.

Because this study aims to identify new modes of (and possibilities for) intellectual engagement in America today, the first half of this dissertation reviews prominent definitions of the intellectual, sets forth a clear denotation, and reviews the role of the intellectual as an historical actor in America since the turn of the 20th century.  After establishing these theoretical and historical parameters, the case studies that follow focus on the activities of the Anonymous network since 2008, when Anonymous declared itself staunchly committed to social justice, as well as 4chan, an imageboard known for its vile depravity and its capacity to offend.  The aim of this research is not to determine whether these networks are liberatory or oppressive, or whether they are serving as agents of social change, but to delineate what can be learned from their activities and operations, and the ways in which network society— its horizontal structure and the digital modes of organizing, communicating, and collaborating that it makes possible— can be used in the service of intellectual aims. 

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