Interview with hacker anthropologist Biella Coleman

In this week's show, Thomas Gideon's Command Line podcast interviews NYU professor Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist who studies hackers, trolls, 4chan and other online phenomena. I met Biella when she was doing fieldwork for her PhD by hanging around EFF and the hackers in its orbit, and I've met very few social scientists with a better understanding of how online dynamics work.
The feature this week is an interview I conducted with Gabriella Coleman. I was introduced to her work through her writings at The Atlantic. She mentions Malcom Gladwell's criticism of online activism and Indy Media. The main reason I invited her on was her critique of Bruce Sterling's The Blast Shack. We delve a bit further into the question of WikiLeaks lasting impacts. I mention a couple of times Clay Shirky's long haul view. Gabriella recommends Adrian Johns' book on piracy (which I ordered with a gift card I received recently, can't wait to read it). She also mentions a revisit of the topic of WikiLeaks at The Economist. You can also find Gabriella on Twitter where she is quite active and sharing some great links related to topics we discuss in this interview and of course her broader work.
TCLP 2011-01-12 Interview: Gabriella Coleman

MP3 Link

(Image: Biella Coleman, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from sfllaw's photostream)


  1. The title is misleading, she is not a hacker. I was looking forward to reading about a real life Lisbeth Solander of sorts. Coleman and the article are interesting none the less, but I totally got baited. Not cool.

    1. I had the same problem with an article about a pig inseminator the other day — how disappointing — so not cool!

  2. Petroleum, who ISN’T a hacker these days? I’ve seen ordering a late breakfast and early lunch described as “hacking.”

    As for Ms. Coleman, I appreciate the work she’s doing but I would not want to be locked in a room with her. She has gazed deeply into the abyss. Who knows what horrors have taken root in her mind, and lie sleeping, waiting to unleash unfathomable nightmares for the lulz?

    1. I’ve seen people who seriously think that building an LED throwie is “hacking”
      Assembling a throwie does not a hacker make.

      Let’s not split hairs.
      If you’re a hacker, then it’s because you hack stuff, stuff that’s non-trivial to hack.
      Hacking does not mean doing something slightly unusual.

  3. I enjoy when people approach complicated phenomena with the techniques of deconstruction and ethnography.

    (I wish somebody would do the same for the Tucson shootings.)

    (This writer takes an anthropological approach to intellectual property issues)

  4. Only an anthropologist would know immediately that the reference was to a member of our field who choose a specialty. I do agree that in common land it does looks like an anthropologist who is a hacker, when I emailed it to my son and put in the subject line “hacker anthropologist” I realized it could be about one of his peers. lol.

    I chose a different route, I enrolled in law school to specialize in cybercrimes and that would be in the field of “Legal Anthropology”.

    A study of anything humans engage in is an open field in our discipline.

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