Masks Against Panopticism: Enabling and Contesting Social Change Through Anonymous Engagement

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review


This chapter considers masks as enablers or disablers of social activism. Activists have increasingly used masks to shield themselves from the surveillance state in which law enforcement and national security agencies systematise the use of biometric and other identification tools. Social movements use masks as one response to that panopticism. Masks are also a potential means to construct a collective movement identity rather than merely concealing individual identities. Masks may signal that ‘we are together’, committed, and therefore strong rather than merely bystanders. Masks can be used for anonymisation and collective identity by both ‘progressive’ and ‘regressive’ movements, including people seeking regime change on a peaceful basis and those that engage in violence. Anonymisation also means that masks can be used by provocateurs to discredit a protest or to gain intelligence from within a social movement. Finally, masking may be a manifestation of privilege, in which a riot such as the 2021 attack on the US Capitol is understood as carnival or in which law enforcement personnel opposing civil society activism express their impunity from accountability.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Handbook on Law, Movements, and Social Change
EditorsSteven A. Boutcher , Corey S. Shdaimah, Michael W. Yarbrough
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781789907674
ISBN (Print)9781789907667
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2023


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