[publication] Reactionary Rhythm

Sal Hagen has published his PhD dissertation, titles “Reactionary rhythm: Quali-quantitative studies on 4chan/pol/”, which is composed of six published articles as well as four new chapters: an introduction, methodology chapter, a quantitative overview of 4chan/pol/, and a conclusion.

Read the dissertation here.

Amidst a global resurgence of the far right, the dissertation studies 4chan’s /pol/ ‘Politically Incorrect’ board, one of the most notorious online spaces of the 2010s and 2020s. Whereas 4chan was previously associated with political ambivalence and democratic movements, /pol/’s toxicity became emblematic of shattered optimism surrounding participatory culture online and a ‘reactionary turn’ of Internet subcultures. Prompted by these developments, Hagen interrogates the peculiar collectivity of this far-right space through six case studies. Centring around the question of what holds /pol/ together, he uses a large data archive to empirically map its techno-cultural currents through innovative digital methods that think along with the anonymous and ephemeral design of imageboards. Doing so shines a light on key dynamics that have enabled and maintained /pol/’s reactionary character over the past ten years. Specifically, after mapping the general trends of the space, the dissertation shows how the repetition-with-variation or ‘memecry’ of Internet memes anchors this far-right collective while also saving the group from stagnancy; how ‘panoramic’ memes provide the anonymous forum with a sense of unity by establishing populist us-them divisions and evoking reflexive debates on group boundaries; how vernacular terms that ‘spread outwards’ tether /pol/ to broader propagation patterns and imbue the board with a sense of viral influence; and how antagonism towards similarly subcultural groups forms a main method through which 4channers negotiate a collective identity. Together, these mechanisms and trends point to surprisingly consistent ‘reactionary rhythms’ within a medium that was previously framed as resilient to genuine hatred and ideological stability. Beyond these empirical insights, the dissertation demonstrates how to map and interrogate the often-dizzying flows of digital cultures through quali-quantitative and temporally sensitive methodologies. In doing so, it offers novel conceptual and methodological handles to the study of imageboards and related online spaces.

Reactionary rhythm: Quali-quantitative studies on 4chan/pol/