The Anarchist Information Community

Free sharing of information across diverse populations is the most vital component of anarchist organization.

The Anarchist Information Community
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Anarchism is a misunderstood term, demonized into the abstract as a false synonym for chaos. Frequently applied as a pejorative against people who act violently in opposition to government forces, such use is misrepresentative of both the word and the function of anarchism as a philosophy.

While the philosophy is centered “on the belief that government is both harmful and unnecessary” (Dirlik et al., 2022), anarchism’s true focus is the nature and function of power structures (Read, 1994).

An innate core of altruism, known as mutual aid, forms a basis for all anarchist thinking and action. This principle assumes, in human beings, a natural ability to experience altruistic sympathy, and that any attempt to coerce individuals to behave in a structured way (especially through punitive reinforcement) subdues this natural tendency (Funk, 2017).

However, it was the famous British art theorist, Sir Herbert Read, who most effectively summed up anarchism as a functional political philosophy: “We who are anarchists seek to divide power, to decentralize government down to the localities in which it is exercised, so that every man has a sense of social responsibility and participates immediately in the conduct of his social order” (Read, 1994, p. 115).

Thus, anarchism is not a lack of organization, nor a reluctance toward all social structures, but rather a philosophy that denies the justice (and practicality) of any central or coercive authority.

Exploring anarchism as a global information community is therefore surprisingly easy, as many of the observed qualities of natural information communities (Fisher et al., 2003) are seen, within anarchism, as fundamental rights. As described by the research of Karen E. Fisher and Kenton T. Unruh, who built upon the work of Joan Durrance, five characteristics of information communities emerged.

The first characteristic is an emphasis “on collaboration among diverse information providers,” the second is the capacity “to form around people’s needs to access and use information,” the third is the exploitation of “information-sharing qualities of emerging technologies,” the fourth is the ability to “transcend barriers to information sharing,” and the fifth characteristic is the capacity “to foster social connectedness” (Fisher & Fulton, 2022).

The free sharing of information across diverse populations is the most vital component of anarchist organization, and the ultimate goal is to create social structures that foster humanity’s natural urge to cooperate and uplift one another (while hampering its natural urge toward violence). Indeed, an anarchist community is one that functions through “through collaboration, deliberation, consensus, and common coordination. Justice can emerge from a sense of common purpose and practices of mutual aid” (Vaidhyanathan, 2005, The Ideological Origins section, para. 4). As such, anarchist communities automatically strive to include, and adapt to, a wide variety of people’s information needs.

As for transcending barriers to the sharing of information, and the capacity to effectively use technology to this purpose, anarchist communities once again map well. Indeed, because there is significantly less hierarchy in anarchist organizations, the free-flow of information between the individuals members becomes of paramount importance for swift and good action. In The Anarchist in the Library (2005), Siva Vaidhyanathan describes just how anarchist communication incorporates and centers technology to form community:

Anarchistic functions and methods have been around for many centuries. Recently individuals have used widespread, low-cost, high-quality technologies to communicate, persuade, and organize over long distances, beyond the prying ears and eyes of powerful institutions. Digitization and networking make anarchy relevant in ways it has not been before. Global electronic networks make widespread anarchistic activity possible. What used to happen in a neighborhood barbershop or on a park bench now happens across a nation-state or beyond. Rumors can bubble up into action. (Vaidhyanathan, 2005, The Ideological Origins section, para. 1)

Moreover, there is an interesting link between anarchist theory and the information science field itself, which is “a multidisciplinary community that heavily relies on the theoretical and methodological underpinning adapted from several other disciplines (e.g., psychology, marketing, computer science, economics)” (Treiblmaier, 2018, p. 92). Here, it is Sir Herbert Read’s framework for anarchism that strikes a powerful comparison between the two definitions. Read, in 1947, laid out a clear set of principles which would shift anarchism away from merely a revolutionary philosophy, to what he considered an evolutionary one. These seven principles (Read, 1994, p.117–125) are:

  1. Personal freedom. Not merely a state of individual liberty, but a state of mental egalitarianism.
  2. Mutual aid. Society can be organized on a cooperative and federal basis, free from exploitation and dictation.
  3. Non-violence. Anarchism’s aims can not be attained through violence, which must instead be substituted by both passive and active resistance, and specifically through education at the most formative levels.

These main beliefs, Read stated, must be supported by anarchist research and work in the following areas:

  1. History: The study of cooperative communities and general history showcases support for anarchism (in order to pit fact against fact in the argument for anarchism).
  2. Anthropology: for studies in cooperative organization of production and problems of collective integrity.
  3. Sociology: which contains a multitude of vital points for anarchist study, and especially the problem of incentives for work.
  4. Psychology: both individual and social, but especially social, because it deals with the relationships between the individual and the group.

Read’s aim was to show that anarchism required a fundamental appreciation for, and use of, a multidisciplinary scientific approach in order to continue functioning into the 20th and 21st centuries. In essence, if not directly, he made the case that anarchism and the field of information science share nearly identical goals (certainly in so far as the distribution and access of information is concerned). This falls neatly in line with aspects of information theory, like Stafford Beer’s organizational cybernetics, that “lends itself to forms of organisation that aim to limit if not completely reject centralised, top-down command and control in favour of participatory and democratic practices” (Swann, 2018, p. 427).

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!


Dirlik, A. , Woodcock, . George , Miller, . Martin A. and Rosemont, . Franklin (2022, September 20). anarchism. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Fisher, K. E., Unruh, K. T., & Durrance, J. C. (2003). Information communities: Characteristics gleaned from studies of three online networks. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 40(1), 298–305.

Funk, W. (2017). ‘Happy amicable co-operation’: Mutual aid, anarchism and the image of the bee in the work of Louisa Sarah Bevington. European Journal of English Studies, 21(1), 61–75.

Swann, T. (2018). Towards an anarchist cybernetics: Stafford Beer, self-organisation and radical social movements. Ephemera, 18.3, 427–456.

Treiblmaier, H. (2018). The Philosopher’s Corner: Paul Feyerabend and the Art of Epistemological Anarchy. 49(2).

Vaidhyanathan, S. (2005). The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System. Basic Books.

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