Gabriella Coleman

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Gabriella Coleman
Gabriella Coleman, Feb 2012.jpg
Gabriella Coleman, New Zealand, 2012
Born1973 (age 49–50)
Occupation(s)Author, anthropologist, professor
EmployerMcGill University
Known forAnthropological studies of Debian and groups associated with Anonymous

Enid Gabriella Coleman (usually known as Gabriella Coleman or Biella; born 1973) is an anthropologist, academic and author whose work focuses on cultures of hacking and online activism, particularly Anonymous. She previously held the Wolfe Chair in Scientific & Technological Literacy at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada and is currently a full professor at Harvard University's Department of Anthropology.[1]


After completing her high school education at St. John's School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Coleman graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Columbia University in May 1996.[2] She moved to the University of Chicago where she completed a Master of Arts in socio-cultural anthropology in August 1999. She was awarded her PhD in socio-cultural anthropology for her dissertation The Social Construction of Freedom in Free and Open Source Software: Hackers, Ethics, and the Liberal Tradition[3] in 2005.[2]

Academic career[edit]

Coleman held positions including a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Cultural Analysis, Rutgers University and the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Fellowship, Program in Science, Technology & Society, University of Alberta[2] before being appointed assistant professor of media, culture and communication at New York University in September 2007.[4]

During 2010–2011, Coleman spent some time working at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton as the recipient of the "2010–11 Ginny and Robert Loughlin Founders' Circle Member in the School of Social Science".[5]

In January 2012, she moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada to take up the Wolfe Chair in Scientific & Technological Literacy at McGill University.[6] The same year, she also spoke at Webstock 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand.[7]

Study of Anonymous[edit]

Coleman's work on Anonymous has led to her becoming a regular media commentator in addition to her academic publications. In July 2010, Coleman made reference to the Anonymous "project" or "operation" Chanology against the Church of Scientology and uses what would become a central motif in her descriptions of the group, the "trickster archetype", which she argues is "often not being a very clean and savory character, but perhaps vital for social renewal".[8] Coleman states that she had "been thinking about the linkages between the trickster and hackers" for "a few years" before a stay in hospital led her to read Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art by Lewis Hyde:

Within the first few pages, it was undeniable: there are many links to be made between the trickster and hacking. Many of these figures, push boundaries of all sorts: they upset ideas of propriety and property; they use their sharpened wits sometimes for play, sometimes for political ends; they get trapped by their cunning (which happens ALL the time with tricksters! That is how they learn); and they remake the world, technically, socially, and legally and includes software, licensing and even forms of literature.[9]

Coleman's theory concerning Anonymous (and associated groups such as 4chan) as the trickster has moved from academia to the mainstream media. Recent references include the three-part series on Anonymous in Wired magazine[10] and the New York Times.[11] Coleman has also been critical of some of the mainstream coverage of Anonymous. In Is it a Crime? The Transgressive Politics of Hacking in Anonymous (with Michael Ralph), Coleman responds to an article on the group by Joseph Menn in the Financial Times[12] noting:

more critical engagement with the issues he raises is likely to yield important lessons for scholarly and journalistic approaches to digital media, protest politics, and cyber-security. Instead of merely depicting hackers as virtual pamphleteers for free speech or as digital outlaws, we need to start asking more specific questions about why and when hackers embrace particular attitudes toward different kinds of laws, explore in greater detail what they are hoping to achieve, and take greater care in examining the consequences.[13]

Our Weirdness Is Free: The logic of Anonymous — online army, agent of chaos, and seeker of justice, Triple Canopy 2012 January, is Coleman's first major piece of length on the group and draws from a range of observations of those she describes as "everything and nothing at once".[14] Even Coleman admits she does not fully understand Anonymous, she told the BBC:

You can never have complete certainty as to what's going on, who's involved, "not being able to fully understand who's behind the mask" is what gives Anonymous political power.[15]

Coleman's multi-year ethnographic research on Anonymous culminated in the publication of Hacker Hoaxer Whistleblower Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous.[16] Awarded the American Anthropological Association's Diane Forsythe prize and described by Alan Moore, the co-author of V for Vendetta as "brilliantly lucid",[17] the book charts the history, rise, and impact of the Anonymous movement. Even though the book deploys journalistic writing conventions, Coleman continues to analytically frame the activity of trolling and Anonymous in terms of tricksterism. She argues in her book that tricksters "are well positioned to impart lessons—regardless of their intent.".[16] And continues to note: 

“Their actions need not be accepted, much less endorsed, to extract positive value. We may see them as edifying us with liberating or terrifying perspectives, symptomatic of underlying problems that deserve scrutiny, functioning as a positive force toward renewal, or as distorting and confusing shadows.” [16]

The white nationalist troll weev, also treated as a foil to Anonymous, is presented as an example of the terrifying side of trickstermism, while Anonymous, argues Coleman, represents a more positive side, a force for political hope and renewal.

The issues of tricksters, trolls and Anonymous was further explored by a group of anthropologists in special issue of the Journal Hau[18] that reviewed Coleman's book.



  1. ^ "Gabriella Coleman". Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). New York University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  3. ^ "Abstract of 'The social construction of freedom in free and open source software: Hackers, ethics, and the liberal tradition'". FlossHub. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  4. ^ "Faculty page for Gabriella Coleman". New York University. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  5. ^ "Spring 2011 Issue". Institute for Advanced Studies. Archived from the original on 6 January 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Faculty page for Department Professors". McGill University. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  7. ^ Gabriella Coleman | Speakers | Webstock 2012 – 13–17 February 2012
  8. ^ Norton, Quinn (18 July 2010). "Why Do Anonymous Geeks Hate Scientologists?". Gizmodo. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  9. ^ Coleman, Gabriella. "Hacker and Troller as Trickster". SocialText Journal. Archived from the original on 17 January 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  10. ^ Norton, Quinn (8 November 2011). "Anonymous 101: Introduction to the Lulz". Wired. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  11. ^ Walker, Rob (16 July 2010). "When Funny Goes Viral". New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  12. ^ Menn, Joseph (23 September 2011). "They're watching. And they can bring you down". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  13. ^ Coleman, Gabriella. "Is it a Crime? The Transgressive Politics of Hacking in Anonymous". SocialText Journal. Archived from the original on 1 February 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  14. ^ Coleman, Gabriella. "Our Weirdness Is Free: The logic of Anonymous — online army, agent of chaos, and seeker of justice". Triple Canopy. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  15. ^ "Anonymous, hacktivism and the rise of the cyber protester", Simon Cox, 26 November 2012, BBC Radio 4
  16. ^ a b c Coleman, E. Gabriella (2014). Hacker, hoaxer, whistleblower, spy : the many faces of Anonymous. London: Verso. ISBN 9781781685839. OCLC 890807781.
  17. ^ "Alan Moore: By the Book". The New York Times. 8 September 2016. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  18. ^ "HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory | Vol 5, No 2". Retrieved 8 September 2019.

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