Gabriella Coleman

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Gabriella Coleman
File:Gabriella Coleman, Feb 2012.jpg
Gabriella Coleman, New Zealand, 2012
Residence Montreal, Canada
Nationality United States
Occupation Author, Anthropologist, Professor
Employer McGill University
Known for Anthropological studies of Debian and groups associated with Anonymous

Enid Gabriella Coleman (usually known as Gabriella Coleman or 'Biella') is an anthropologist, academic and author whose work focuses on hacker culture and online activism, particularly Anonymous. She currently holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific & Technological Literacy at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Nathan Schneider writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education named her "the world's foremost scholar on Anonymous".[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 Ph.D 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

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 re-located 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

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 of 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 has defended the white nationalist hacker weev, also known as Andrew Auernheimer, citing his views as an example of the "transgression and subversion" of internet trolling.[16]


  1. Nathan Schneider, "Hacking the World: An anthropologist in the midst of a geek insurgency" The Chronicle of Higher EducationApril 1, 2013 link retrieved 2 April 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). New York University. Retrieved 2012-01-22. 
  3. "Abstract of 'The social construction of freedom in free and open source software: Hackers, ethics, and the liberal tradition'". FlossHub. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  4. "Faculty page for Gabriella Coleman". New York University. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  5. "Spring 2011 Issue". Institute for Advanced Studies. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  6. "Faculty page for Department Professors". McGill University. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  7. Gabriella Coleman | Speakers | Webstock 2012 — 13th-17th February 2012
  8. Norton, Quinn. "Why Do Anonymous Geeks Hate Scientologists?". Gizmodo. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  9. Coleman, Gabriella. "Hacker and Troller as Trickster". SocialText Journal. 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. "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. 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
  16. The Truth About Anonymous's Activism

External links