Community and authority in ROAR Magazine

Abstract

This article responds to a common critique of corpus-based studies as decontextualized exercises in linguistic analysis by illustrating how, in the case of internet-based data, the concordance line can reveal rather than obscure aspects of a textual body’s cultural constitution. The data for the study consists of 100 articles of the online political journal ROAR (Reflections on a Revolution) Magazine, which has reported on global instances of public unrest and dissent since 2011. After sketching the relation between the financial crisis commencing in 2007 and the global protests that followed in its wake, the article investigates textual patterns within ROAR’s varied output. These patterns, ranging from the collocational profile of the keyword democracy to quotation practices, are shown to be constitutive of a virtual sense of community. This process of identity formation is then shown to have a mythopoetic effect, which ultimately impacts the emplotment of the various events covered and considered by the magazine. Additional attention is paid to ROAR as a cross-platform enterprise. In this respect, the fragmentary nature of the Internet is shown to both facilitate and frustrate the creation of a symbolic sense of community.

Introduction

Corpus-based studies are rooted in the translation of magical formulae. During his excursions in the Pacific in the early twentieth century, the anthropologist Malinowski was confronted with the difficulty of explaining to his readers words and phrases that, on first impression, seemed “meaningless” or “untranslatable” (Malinowski, 2002, p. 213). He was especially concerned with the question of “how to translate a magical utterance”, and decided that the issue necessitated “an elaborate contextualization of each spell” under consideration (Malinowski, 2002, pp. 244, 249). Contextualization, in this sense, involved the description of “facial expression, gesture” and “bodily activities”, but also the concrete physical environment in which people communicated (Malinowksi, 2002, p. 22). On a more basic linguistic level, he argued that a single word is “meaningless, and receives its significance only through the context of other words” (Malinowksi, 2002, p. 22). Malinowski’s observations were to exercise considerable influence on the British School of linguistics, first through Firth’s contextual theory of meaning and his insistence that one “shall know a word by the company it keeps” (Firth, 1968a, p. 179; 1968b, p. 14), and later through Sinclair’s application of this principle to shape what we now know as corpus linguistics, namely the analysis of large linguistic datasets in search of recurrent patterns indicative of a correspondence between form and meaning (Sinclair, 1991, p. 7).

Firth drew heavily on Malinowski’s distinction between the “context of culture” and the context of situation” in which any expression is embedded (Malinowski, 2002, p. 51). The “context of culture” can broadly be defined as the social constitution that defines the range of expressive possibilities available to a given linguistic community, with linguistic community referring to a group of people that endeavors to produce mutually intelligible expressions, regardless of whether they are realized in written or oral discourse. The context of situation refers to a “behavior matrix” articulated in the conversational encounter that determines the actual linguistic choices made (Firth, 1968a, p. 167). The discipline known as systemic functional linguistics, shaped by the work of MAK Halliday et al., would later continue to honor this distinction and provide elaborate models to capture the continuum between a linguistic expression, its co-text, and the various aspects of its broader environment (Halliday, 1992, Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014). Stemming from the same tradition, but heavily determined by developments in lexicography and computational processing power, corpus linguistics as inspired by its main theorist John Sinclair gradually moved away from extra-linguistic observation. The study of repeated patterning across large datasets shifted the focus in studying lexical items to the concordance line, which displays the lexical item under scrutiny within a limited stretch of immediate co-text (Sinclair, 1991; 2003). While in principle remaining faithful to the idea that the conceptual value of a lexical item cannot be captured in isolation, corpus linguistics, the discipline that had promised to deliver a contextual theory of meaning, was ultimately heavily criticized for presenting data that was “as decontextualized as any linguistic information could possibly be” (Partington, 1998, p. 145). In corpus-based research, the functional view of language that had cleared the path for its emergence, and which continues to inform linguistic anthropology, thus became increasingly secondary to the formal aspects of language uncovered by the method, namely patterns of lexical repetition and variation.

Developments observed in the corpus-based study of communication in a sense foreshadowed developments in the shape of online textual production. Anthropologists such as Malinowski encountered communities sustained by situational immersion, and could interpret their linguistic customs with reference to their embodied behavior. On the Internet, however, despite the gestural components that have become part and parcel of phenomena as diverse as virtual reality, online role-playing games and video conferencing, tactile interactions are largely absent, as linguistic communities remain materially fragmented across temporal and spatial divides. Strictly speaking, because of the Internet’s openness in terms of spatial and temporal points of access, there are no determined situations in cyberspace. Given that immersion is no longer dependent on situational encounters, the formation of varied communities on the Internet functions through the exchange of commonly recognized symbols, as evidenced for instance by the increasing importance of internet memes, cultural replicators that play upon recognizability to generate humor and affiliation. Internet memes predominantly occur as humorous, static combinations of image and text, the duplication of which—involving both elements of repetition and variation—creates “social distinction and a sense of community” (Nissenbaum and Shifman, 2017, p. 484). Before the term “meme” came to be attached to such specific iconic artefacts, its scholarly scope included “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions” and even “ways of making pots or of building arches” (Dawkins, 2003, p. 192). The more specific core meaning attached to the term “meme” today reveals the growing importance of the often ironic templates it refers to regarding present-day cultural formation. Fora such as 4chan and Reddit are regarded not just as discussion boards, but as virtual communities with a sizeable impact on broader cultural developments (Zannettou et al., 2018). Their rapid spread and demise reveals an increasingly “accelerative culture” steeped in processes of ongoing “bricolage” (Urban, 2001, pp. 18, 127). A well-known meme that may serve as an example consists of an image of Karl Marx accompanied with the faux quote “Gib me dat for free—Hungry Santa”. The combination of irony and political positioning is typical of online memetic communication, but this particular instance also indicates that, rather than presenting a radically new phenomenon, internet memes derive from previous cultural forms of appropriation and adaptation. Before the affordances of digital media facilitated rapid imitative procedures, quotation perhaps served as a main means for the purposive exploitation of the iterability of the sign—its capacity so simultaneously express repetition and variation.

In short, while imitation and adaptation have always shaped the sphere of cultural circulation, patterning, bricolage, and potential fragmentation may be assumed to have gained importance in the era of virtual communication. By accessing online material through a concordance browser, corpus linguists are reducing some of the options for organizing cultural material, and adding others, but are doing so, in essence, according to the same principles that guided the initial online presentation. In the absence of a corporeal determination of linguistic behavior, the conventions that determine textual patterns can only be derived from their interrelations. In this sense, the study of patterning central to corpus-linguistic inquiry is also closely tied to the phenomenon of “intertextuality”, a term coined by Julia Kristeva in response to Bakhtin’s foray into the dialogic imagination. Patterns across utterances, be they written or oral, reveal that “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another” (Kristeva, 1986, p. 37).

This article draws on a subcorpus of texts selected from the Genealogies of Knowledge Internet corpus, and consisting of 100 articles from the political online journal ROAR Magazine (more details on the data are provided in section “ROAR Magazine’s online presence and the contents of the corpus” below). The analysis aims to describe some of the ways in which the publication realizes a sense of community among its authors, readers and financial supporters. An initial investigation of the centrality of the keyword democracy to the publication’s self-presentation suggests that the magazine’s symbolic universe is governed by a number of individual authorities whose status is expressed through reference strategies such as paraphrase and quotation. ROAR’s strategic use of utterances attributed to such individuals—primarily Karl Marx, Murray Bookchin, and Abdullah Öcalan—creates a coherent network of textual authority that serves to strengthen the magazine’s inner consistency and outer appeal, but also influences the narrative emplotment of the events covered by the journal, these primarily being the protest actions that erupted in the wake of the financial crisis starting in late 2007. In the analysis, attention is paid to rhetorical techniques that demand close-reading, which in turn requires a small-scale and metadata-rich dataset. Ultimately, the purpose of the analysis is to derive the magazine’s “context of culture” from its observable textual output, showing that, in the age of online textual fragmentation, corpus-based studies can function to produce rather than reduce contextual clarification. To situate the analysis within the social and political circumstances in which the data under study was produced, I begin with a discussion of the relationship between the crisis and the global wave of protests that emerged in its aftermath.

ROAR Magazine’s genesis: the global financial crisis and popular mobilizations

At the end of the previous millennium, market players commonly maintained that compounding various kinds of debt in complex financial products would boost “the stability and resilience of the financial system as a whole” (Helleiner, 2011, p. 70). Debt repackaging became a major business, especially in the United States. Yet ultimately the intricate virtual machinations of the banking industry derive from material phenomena. In the concrete world, a housing bubble had been inflating in the States, fueled by substantial mortgage lending to “less creditworthy borrowers” (Helleiner, 2011, p. 69). As borrowers increasingly defaulted on their mortgages, property, a major component of the ever expanding catalog of securities, proved to be an insecure investment. Several hedge funds, privileged investment schemes in principle built to withstand market volatility, went down first. In the spring of 2007, as the reciprocal exposure between financial institutions and mortgage-related financial products became threateningly clear, concern and uncertainty intensified across Europe and the United States (Helleiner, 2011, p. 69). The banks reversed their previous generosity both locally and internationally, and “financial contagion” spread across “many sectors and countries”, ultimately severely affecting the “real economy”, and thus the living standard of the world’s population (Helleiner, 2011, p. 69, emphasis in original).

By all indications, “the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 was the most severe since the Great Depression of the 1930s” (Helleiner, 2011, p. 68). Given its direct impact on people’s daily life, the problem quickly became political. Across the board, governmental reaction to the crisis was twofold. Financial institutions beyond rescue were relinquished, but massive capital injections safeguarded the survival of the most powerful establishments, irrespective of whether or not they were accountable for the crisis. Simultaneously, public spending and welfare mechanisms were rolled back. In the UK, for instance, the Conservative government promised in 2010 that “a platform of austerity” was bound to “reign in the overblown state, restore stability to the economy, and bring Britain out of crisis” (Howard and Pratt-Boyden, 2013, p. 731). Hardship was presented to the populace as the cure for hardship. From 2010 onwards, anti-austerity sentiment gave rise to widespread public unrest. Well-documented examples of protest actions against austerity include the 15-M Movement in Spain and the Indignant Citizens Movement in Greece, with the most visible in the media, as well as the scholarly literature being Occupy Wall Street. Importantly, these movements combined an anti-austerity stance with a pro-democracy appeal (Flesher Fominaya, 2017). As national governments had proven powerless in the face of the crisis and were perceived to side with the banking industry, the voice of the people repeatedly met deaf ears, and the revelation of this democratic deficit spelled a profound legitimation crisis: what went, in the West, for democracy, was deemed unfit to carry the name.

Beyond resistance to the degeneration of democratic ideals and the enormous power of seemingly unaccountable financial institutions, social movements such as 15-M and Occupy shared a means of embodied expression. By occupying public spaces, they politicized the standstill rather than the march. The “movements of the squares” established encampments at open enclosures such as Syntagma Square (Athens), the Puerta del Sol (Madrid) and Zuccotti Park (New York). They experimented with economic alternatives such as “bartering and exchange systems”, and with political alternatives such as assemblies that stimulated participatory decision-making (Flesher Fominaya, 2014, p. 184). The idea of the square as a micro-society prefiguring the social relations aspired to while expressing discontent with the existing state of affairs was partly derived from a series of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, commencing just months before the European and North-American anti-austerity protests took shape. In particular, Tahrir Square (Cairo), where protesters managed to set up field hospitals and food banks in the face of severe repression, became a “main symbol and source of inspiration” for a number of international protest movements (van de Sande, 2013, p. 233). The Arab uprisings, stretching from Morocco to Syria, were “informed by preceding grievances and ambitions for change” and responded to long-standing issues of corruption, dismal living conditions, and human rights infringements (Cottle, 2011, p. 647). Thus, the resulting occupations, only a small part of the unfolding historical drama, were different from the anti-austerity protests across Europe and the US in important respects. However, shared pro-democratic aspirations and strategies, as well as international expressions of solidarity and recognition, led to the widespread perception of “a global wave of protests” (Flesher Fominaya, 2017, p. 1).

ROAR Magazine’s online presence and the contents of the corpus

The global protests saw the development of various local independent initiatives such as the resistance newspapers Libya and the Occupy Gazette. Such initiatives were often short-lived, providing temporary alternative coverage of events. When novelty wore off, traditional media too shifted their focus from the continuing global unrest. Currently, coverage of the Arab uprisings’ aftermath is mostly limited to the civil wars that broke out in its wake, and Western anti-austerity movements have left both the squares and the stage to other expressions of discontent, most notably in the sphere of concerns over climate change. A number of alternative, mostly online media platforms, however, continue to be dedicated to keeping the spirit of 2011 alive and to documenting its continued relevance. An established example is OpenDemocracy, a long-standing publication addressing a broad range of issues that include the developments outlined above. Other publications, however, arose from these specific conditions and provide a more focused engagement with what was and is still perceived as the “global wave of protests” commencing at the beginning of the second decade of this century.

A high-profile example of such publications is ROAR (Reflections on a Revolution) Magazine, an online outlet for news and criticism, which describes itself as “an independent journal of the radical imagination providing grassroots perspectives from the front-lines of the global struggle for real democracy” (ROAR: About). As the About page further explains, ROAR was founded “in 2011 to provide theoretically-informed analysis of the global financial crisis and the popular mobilizations that emerged in its wake”. The page provides a timeline of key moments covered by the publication, which starts with the euro crisis, then moves on to the Arab spring, anti-austerity protests, the Occupy movement, Gezi & Brazil, the Rojava revolution, Black Lives Matter, the Greek referendum and the refugee crisis, to end with Trump and Brexit. The ROAR website was launched along with a quarterly print journal, the last edition of which was published in the autumn of 2018. The editors explain on their Patreon crowdfunding page, through which they currently receive monthly donations from 126 people, that the journal has since returned “to its roots as an online magazine” (ROAR: Patreon).

Before the print journal was discontinued, ROAR received revenue from subscriptions. Since December 2018, however, it has relied on crowdfunding. Individual contributions are typically small, and the magazine must therefore seek to attract a large number of donors to become sustainable. ROAR adopts a mixture of ex ante and ex post facto crowdfunding (Aitamurto, 2015, p. 193). Funds are not collected for individual articles but for the publication as a whole, which means that continued financial support reflects public interest garnered from previous outputs and sustained on the basis of a promise of producing similar future material. There is thus an implication of consistency in the business model: in order to keep its head above water, ROAR has to present a consistent narrative that appeals to a specific yet broad public. Given the complexity and diversity of the protest movements that motivated the launch of the magazine, as noted earlier, this is by no means a straightforward task. Beyond providing a consistent narrative space, the appeal to crowdfunding also requires that ROAR’s patrons-cum-readers are offered an incentive to contribute. Patrons do not intervene in the magazine’s coverage or editorial process, and therefore engagement is solely founded upon ROAR’s ability to convince readers that they are part of something bigger than themselves. That is to say, crowdfunding success depends upon the publication’s capacity to foster a sense of community among its readers. What follows is an exploration of the workings of sense of community within and around the magazine’s output, and how this impacts part of the journal’s emplotment of the globally dispersed revolutionary projects sketched above. I argue that the appeal to crowdfunding capitalizes on the provision of an integrated narrative, which supports the publication’s identity, as well as the magazine’s community feel. These elements have to be in place for the finance strategy to be successfully implemented.

Of “community”, Raymond Williams could still declare in his seminal Keywords that “it seems never to be used unfavorably, and never to be given any positive opposing or distinguishing term” (Williams, 1983, p. 76). Williams traces back this general terminological approval to the nineteenth century, when community would be evoked to express “more direct, more total and therefore more significant relationships” than the “instrumental relationships of state, or of society in its modern sense” (Williams, 1983, p. 76). The most influential work on the concept in recent decades is undoubtedly Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, in which it is argued that “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined” (Anderson, 2006, p. 6). Consequently, “communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined” (Anderson, 2006, p. 6). The focus on self-fashioning and the manufacture of specific bonds along cultural dividing lines has severely impacted the notion of “community” as a locus of untainted authenticity, and increasingly studies of community have come to focus on the construction or fabrication of the sentiment that leads to the perception of community, rather than assumed its presence.

In community psychology, for instance, “sense of community” was first formally theorized in detail by McMillan and Chavis (1986, p. 9), who identified its main elements as membership, influence, the integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection. Fundamentally, these factors contribute to a “feeling that members have of belonging” (McMillan and Chavis, 1986, p. 9). Much like Malinowski’s observations on the functions of language, the specific elements identified are strongly influenced by the perception of a community as a physical environment in which one is continually immersed. Increased mobility and social fragmentation, while by no means delegitimizing McMillan and Chavis’ categories, now mean that “individuals have multiple identities and multiple roles, and these identities and roles connect them to multiple communities” (Brodsky and Marx, 2001, p. 162). The coming of the internet has seen a rapid further development of this process, and increasingly the focus in sense of community research has shifted to virtual communities (Koh and Kim, 2003, p. 75). Virtual interaction is disembodied and fundamentally relies on communication and representation. As a result, a “common symbol system” that serves “to maintain group boundaries” has acquired more importance in the constitution of a sense of community (McMillan and Chavis, 1986, p. 10). Indeed, language and symbols may be the most important expression of in-group conformity and cohesiveness in virtual space (McMillan and Chavis, 1986, p. 12; Rotman and Fei Wu 2014, p. 43). A virtual community is fundamentally a linguistic community. While communicative endeavors may or may not be felicitous, community depends upon the assumption of the possibility of mutual comprehension.

The first page on ROAR Magazine’s Patreon section reads: “welcome to our Patreon page, compas!” (emphasis in original). The italics signal awareness of a foreign vocabulary, but the term’s function as an address removes all doubt about whether one understands, and thus whether one would belong to the welcoming band of brethren occupying this corner of the internet. The page’s appeal ends with a promise to its patrons: “your pledge will help us sustain a unique self-managed publishing project into the tumultuous times that lie ahead, building our collective power as a movement and strengthening the voices of activists around the world”. Whose “collective power” is being built is not specified, but the suggestion is that it is partly the patron’s. Not all patrons are equal, however. One’s identity as a donor depends on the amount of money pledged monthly. A Commoner donates $1 per month, a Communarde $5, and a Guerrilla $10, with multiple sums in between corresponding to a series of comically illustrated revolutionary icons (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: ROAR’s patron icons.
figure1

Reproduced with permission of Joris Leverink, copyright © ROAR MAGAZINE, all rights reserved.

This playful revolutionary image is sustained throughout the ROAR website. The copyleft logo, which guarantees the freedom to translate or republish with non-commercial intent as long as the source is acknowledged, features prominently at the bottom of every page. The phrase placed next to it, All Wrongs Reversed, engages in wordplay with the fixed expressions of intellectual property. Verbal play also determines the list of topics, equally visible on every page, under which the journal’s outputs are categorized: alliterations such as Borders & Beyond or Race & Resistance appeal to the poetic intimation that form is indicative of essence, and thus suggest the presence of an absolute truth in the conjunctions presented. Alliteration is an example of “excessive order or regularity”, which makes it “a figure in the schematic mode”, while the pun on all rights reserved employs “a deficiency of order” characteristic of the “tropic mode” (McQuarrie and Mick, 1996, p. 427). These basic rhetorical modes function as useful advertising strategies, contributing to the familiarity of ROAR’s brand and creating a sense of bonding and complicity among its readership.

The creation of a shared semiotic universe thus clearly governs the surface manifestation of ROAR Magazine, but to ensure continued engagement on the part of a demanding public, symbolic conventions need to be sustained throughout the content of the publication. A linguistic community needs more than outward conformity to ensure successful communicative interactions. In other words, to understand how ROAR realizes internal consistency, and therefore external appeal, patterns of expression within its textual output need to be identified. Advertising strategies and crowdfunding appeals, I will attempt to demonstrate in section “common symbols and textual patterns: the case of democracy”, merely consolidate patterns of cohesion and coherence that are already identifiable at the lexical level within the material advertised.

ROAR hosts articles from a variety of contributors, many of whom have an academic background, and all of whom write from an activist perspective. Articles range from interviews to book reviews, and the material on the website extends far beyond that available in the discontinued printed journal. Topics often take the form of journalistic reports on current events or more general reflections on political engagement. Most of the content is original, but some texts are reproduced from affiliated outlets. Translation occurs, but is by no means the default mode of operation for ROAR. The full Genealogies corpus holds 103 articles from ROAR, selected on the basis of the frequent occurrence of political keywords such as “politics” and “community”. The three shortest articles, two summaries of embedded YouTube videos and one reproduction of a Nuit debout manifesto, were not included in the analysis. My study corpus thus consists of 100 articles (see Appendix), amounting to 276,851 tokens. In line with the growth of the magazine, the number of articles increases gradually from 2010 (1 article) to 2016 (35 articles). There are only nine articles from 2017 in the corpus, as the data collection process ended during that year. Five authors have more than two publications each in the subcorpus extracted for this study: the political writer Janet Biehl; the “sociologist, translator, and activist” Theodoros Karyotis; Erik Forman, a “rank-and-file organizer in the fastfood and education sectors”; and Carlos Delclós, “a sociologist and researcher” (descriptions taken from the ROAR website). At the head of the magazine stands its founding editor, the political economist Jerome Roos. Roos is a frequent contributor to his own journal, and he is represented in the subcorpus by eleven original articles and one translation. Seven articles in the subcorpus are attributed to the ROAR Collective, the organization responsible for the publication.

Common symbols and textual patterns: the case of democracy

In order to identify linguistic conventions that constitute a community-forming common symbol system among the 100 articles under study, I began by searching the subcorpus for the central keyword governing ROAR Magazine, namely democracy, using the concordance browser function of the Genealogies suite of software tools. The “global struggle for real democracy” occurs prominently in the magazine’s statement of purpose, signaling the importance of this concept for ROAR. The special status of democracy is confirmed through an examination of the frequency list of the subcorpus: at 666 occurrences, democracy occupies the 42nd position, directly above high-frequency lexical items such as what and these. As discussed in section “ROAR Magazine’s genesis: the global financial crisis and popular mobilizations”, shared democratic aspirations—presented here as a “global struggle for democracy”—contributed to the perception of a series of distinct regional or national struggles as forming part of an integrated global wave of protests. This perspective underlies ROAR’s presentation of the euro crisis and the Arab Spring, among other phenomena, as occurring along a single narrative timeline. Democracy thus constitutes a reference point for interpreting the magazine’s previous output, as well as a promise regarding its future publications. Members of the extended community constituted by ROAR and its readership are expected to share a pro-democratic worldview. Democracy is therefore a keyword in as far as it binds “certain activities and their interpretation” and is indicative of “certain forms of thought” (Williams, 1983, p. 15). Keywords, in this sense, are “nodes around which ideological and political battles are fought” (Stubbs, 1996, p. 78).Footnote 1

The centrality of democracy to political discourse is not a unique characteristic of ROAR Magazine. The concept of democracy has been “essentially contested” for centuries, meaning that “endless disputes” about its proper meaning are central to its circulation (Gallie, 1956, p. 169). Williams had already observed that “no questions are more difficult than those of democracy, in any of its central senses” (Williams, 1983, p. 97; emphasis added). The ideological struggle thus gives way to a proliferation of possible interpretations, and at present the concept of democracy itself seems to have become synonymous with “the permanent struggle over the concrete content of democracy” (Buchstein and Jörke, 2007, p. 195). It has been argued, in this sense, that in using the term, “political motivation perhaps comes less from the pull of democracy per se, and more from the appeal of the combinations it forms with various—very different qualifying terms” (McLennan, 2005, p. 76). The collocational patterning of democracy in the study corpus supports these arguments.

Collocation denotes the “frequent co-occurrence of words” (Sinclair, 2004, p. 28), with the lexical item frequently co-occurring with the word/item under study referred to as its collocate. Colligation, a structural abstraction derived from collocational patterns, is defined as “the collocation of a lexical and a grammatical item” (Partington, 1998, p. 80). The most frequent collocates in position 1 to the left of democracy are direct (77), of (67), real (48), participatory (44), representative (30), and radical (25). With the exception of of, all these items are modifying adjectives, revealing a clear colligational pattern. Other adjectives occur in position 1 to the left of democracy, but these five already account for more than a third of all adjectives occurring in this position. The same five collocates also occur in other positions to the left of democracy, often combining with each other to form series or lists of characteristics attributed to it (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure2

Five out of a total of 13 concordance lines generated by the query direct+ and.

Combinations of adjectives such as radical, direct, and participatory suggest a desire for specificity in pinning down the type of democracy under consideration. These adjectives do not only share a textual environment, they also seem to share a semantic core: as the concordance lines indicate, they are not used to distinguish variant forms of democracy but rather to identify necessarily co-occurring characteristics of what is conceived as a single, coherent, albeit multifaceted concept of democracy. A real democracy is presented as direct and participatory, and a direct and participatory democracy is presented as radical (lines 1 and 3). The phrase “direct and representative democracy”, however, deviates from this pattern among the high-frequency adjectives, as it introduces opposition rather than combination (Fig. 2: line 5, expanded co-text in Fig. 3).

Fig. 3
figure3

Extract of concordance line generated by a query for direct+and.

In the quote in Fig. 2, two models, a Hellenic direct one and a Roman representative one, are set up against each other. Thus, representative shares a grammatical space with direct, participatory, real and radical, but is located outside the compatible set constituted by these terms. This explains why, despite its high frequency in the corpus, representative tends not to co-occur with its modifying counterparts (direct, real, participatory and radical). The Extract function of the concordance software also reveals that the mention of Bookchin is framed within a reference to another piece of writing by Jongerden and Akkaya (Fig. 3). This sequence of attributions combining direct quotation and paraphrase suggests that, while a preliminary investigation of the collocational patterning of democracy may provide a useful entry point to the textual universe of the linguistic community of ROAR, ultimately the implications of the adjectival distinctions discussed above are not immediately transparent. The complex referential frame illustrated above suggests that ROAR handles a specific vocabulary built upon a canon of revolutionary writing. Common symbols constitute a tradition that holds together a community, but ultimately tradition is dependent upon validation by an authority (Cochran, 1977, p. 550).

Establishing authority: quotes and hyperlinks

The status of donors on ROAR’s Patreon page, represented in terms of historical revolutionary agents such as guerrillas, communards and commoners as described in section “ROAR Magazine’s online presence and the contents of the corpus”, is not simply an attractive gimmick but rather consolidates a pattern present within the body of ROAR’s textual output. ROAR draws connections between a host of historical events that are dissimilar in many respects, but this endeavor is supported by a body of theoretical writings, such as Bookchin’s, that grant authority to the assimilation of multiple instances of revolutionary practice under a large insurrectional umbrella (Fig. 3). Quotation plays an important role in this context. When the authority of the person cited is ratified, it serves to contribute to what Atkins and Finlayson (2016, p. 164) term, drawing upon the Western rhetorical tradition’s “basic modes of persuasive appeal” the logos, the pathos and the ethos of an argument (Johnstone, 2009, p. 34). Logos is the locus where “evidence for claims” is provided and appeals to reason, while pathos relates to sentiment, humor and the use of “elevated language” (Atkins and Finlayson, 2016, p. 164), thus appealing to emotions. Ethos, finally, establishes a speaker’s character, “including their identification with a particular community or cultural milieu” (Atkins and Finlayson, 2016, p. 164). In writing and certainly in hypertext, quotation as explicitly reported speech is not the only means to fulfill such functions. The extract in Fig. 4, taken from a recent article published on ROAR Magazine’s website but not included in the subcorpus, illustrates the point. The article is concerned with racist violence in Canada (Haiven, 2019).

Fig. 4: Online logos and pathos in ROAR.
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This figure is covered by a creative commons license. Reproduced with permission of Joris Leverink, copyright © ROAR MAGAZINE, all rights reserved.

The extract in Fig. 4 features the second paragraph in the article and contains three hyperlinks, highlighted in red. Clicking on murder leads to a website documenting current murder rates in Canadian cities. Hate-crime capital leads to an article, which offers detailed information on Canadian hate-crime numbers. Following the link embedded with 1320 percent, finally, guides one towards an article discussing indigenous populations in North America. All three articles offer statistics that provide evidence for the author’s argument, thus supporting the logos of the essay. ROAR consistently presents its content in the colors red, black and white. Intentionally or otherwise, highlighting “murder” and “hate” in red contributes significantly to the pathos of the argument. Indeed, color is a major factor in the generation of emotion within a textual universe, as prosodic elements are not available to fulfill the same function. Given the fact that in a hyperlinked environment, the creation of logos and pathos can largely be fulfilled by other means, virtual quotation can be assumed to be primarily a figure of ethos, or community-formation. Ethos too can be realized through non-textual visual means, but, as discussed with reference to the revolutionary stereotypes bestowed upon ROAR’s patrons, the proper functioning of such means fundamentally depends upon their status as a consolidation of a symbolic universe that remains largely textual. In short, the search for shared linguistic conventions indicative of community practice within an online magazine leads one from the study of keywords to the study of quotation. In complementary fashion, examining the study of quotation in an online environment foregrounds its importance as a community-building strategy.

Quotation, a conscious and explicitly signaled reference strategy, is a numerically minor phenomenon. Searching for quotation practices in ROAR is thus expected to provide limited albeit informative results. The Genealogies software does not allow the user to search for punctuation marks, and even if it did the output would be too noisy to be useful. It is therefore not feasible to identify quotes by searching for quotation marks that signal their occurrence. Names, however, are easily searchable, and they provide the starting point for further exploration of the subcorpus. Proper names do not only feature in the vicinity of direct quotes, but are also used to paraphrase and mention individuals, and the identification of such uses will contribute to the analysis where relevant.

The frequency list generated for the study corpus indicates that Bookchin is the most frequent personal proper name in the 100 articles under examination, at 115 occurrences.Footnote 2 Next is Öcalan, at 72 hits. The name Trump occurs 60 times. Finally, the list features 47 occurrences of Marx.Footnote 3 Other people populate the publication, but these four are mentioned most often. The question, at this stage, is how the voices of these figures contribute to the imagined community configured in ROAR’s textual universe, and how the constitution of this community affects the emplotment of the revolutionary events covered by the journal.

Of the 47 occurrences of Marx in the corpus, the following combination of paraphrase and quotation merits close attention (Fig. 5):Footnote 4

Fig. 5
figure5

Extract of concordance line for Marx.

This passage occurs twice in the concordance lines, as it is repeated in the original article in bold next to the body of text in which it occurs (Roos, 2015, p. 85). The quote is thus treated as central to the article it derives from. The article, in turn, is central to the magazine, as it is written by the journal editor as part of the first print issue. The author speaks of paraphrase rather than quotation because, strictly speaking, Marx spoke of the nineteenth rather than twenty-first century, but the rest of the formulation is identical to the English translation of the original statement made by Marx. The final part of the reference, placed between quotation marks, has a history of its own. Marx was referencing Jesus in this quote, as represented in the New Testament: “And Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke, 1997:60). Roos thus inscribes himself in an ancient tradition of gospel proclamation, and paradoxically does so in a statement subscribing to the view that one should look forwards, not backwards, in terms of the language—or “poetry”—of revolution. The article continues as follows (Roos, 2015, p. 85):

We are all familiar with the poetry of the past: historical hymns still recount the glorious promises of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the withering away of the state, the leading role of the vanguard party, and countless other state-communist clichés long due for an ignominious burial. Lest we forget, Lenin’s corpse has been lying in state for almost a century now—it is high time to give the old man a final resting place!

In defiance of chronology, this passage invokes Marx to bury Lenin. Marx is presented as a legitimate source of inspiration and authority, while Lenin’s heritage receives ironic treatment. Unlike Marx, Lenin is mentioned only four times in the corpus (including the above), and never cited. Stalin receives one mute mention. Mao does not make an appearance. Gramsci is mentioned six times, but never cited. These examples suggest that despite ample occurrences of the school’s originator, ROAR is not an orthodox Marxist publication. Strictly speaking, Marx is not there for the theory. However, this does not mean that the authors in the corpus shy away from Marx’s technical vocabulary (Fig. 6).Footnote 5

Fig. 6
figure6

Full concordance of marx+call*.

As illustrated by in the concordance lines, little snippets of Marx’s peculiar vocabulary are repeatedly inserted into ROAR’s texts. Expanding the context also reveals an element of redundancy in the quasi-metaphorical interjections introduced by the quotations, as in line 1:

in the data age, our wants, needs, desires and creative capacities—or our “general intellect” as Marx called it in the Grundrisse—are digitized and recorded.

Marx is arguably not the most illuminating reference in a discussion of contemporary socio-technical development, and the phrase “needs, desires and creative capacities” does not require urgent clarification. Similarly, there is little argumentative necessity in characterizing a clinging to the law as “Shylock-like” (line 2). The literary reference to Shylock, a character from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, however, clarifies the function of the quoted Marxist term “general intellect”. Contributing little in terms of logos, the quotation serves to create pathos through elevated language and ethos through the formation of an intellectual community. Marx is present for poetic value.

Having identified the role of Marx in the corpus as a provider of a poetic vocabulary, some of his other appearances gain in clarity. In a relatively recent article on rhetoric in times of Trump, Marx is called upon to strengthen an argument concerned with the radical imagination (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7: Screenshot of an extract from the online version of the article “Of love, hate, hope and despair: ten theses on Trumpland vocabulary” (Thompson, 2017).
figure7

This figure is covered by a creative commons license. Reproduced with permission of Joris Leverink, copyright © ROAR MAGAZINE, all rights reserved.

The hyperlink on foundational leads to an online version of Capital, first volume, where imagination is discussed as follows (Marx, 1887):

A bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. However, what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality.

Coleridge’s poem (1825), quoted right after the Marx reference, is also about bees and the nectar they produce. Altogether, the two men of letters provide a consistent set of poetic imagery. Marx remains the man of metaphor, the artist, the creator. He is presented as the one with the authority to name, to the degree that a common term such as imagination must be attributed to him in his presence. As a consequence, what we find surrounding Marx is a set of images and figures that open up the paradigm of revolutionary thought, rather than sustained discussions of any ideological framework he is associated with, be that communism, socialism or even Marxism.

This, I would argue, is the main difference between the treatment of Marx and that of Bookchin in the corpus. Bookchin was an American “libertarian socialist and political theorist” who came to lament “the failures of the revolutionary projects of both Marxism and contemporary anarchism” (Gerber and Brincat, 2018, p. 3). He produced an alternative, large body of work outlining guidelines for social change. The mosaic plugin developed by members of the Genealogies team (Luz and Sheehan, 2014) highlights some of the extensive theoretical vocabulary he elaborated as part of this program. Figure 8 offers a visualization of the significant collocates that appear to the left of the search item Bookchin and relate to such theoretical denominations: libertarian, eco-anarchist, confederalist, ecologists, with communalism and its derivatives being the most prominent.

Fig. 8
figure8

Mosaic visualization showing collocation strength in a concordance of Bookchin (local, MI3—cropped).

Bookchin’s concept of communalism is discussed in detail in the corpus, as in the following excerpt from an article entitled “The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan”Footnote 6:

Bookchin’s communalism contains a five-step approach: 1. Empowering existing municipalities through law in an attempt to localize decision-making power. 2. Democratize those municipalities through grassroots assemblies. 3. Unite municipalities “in regional networks and wider confederations”.

The five steps are systematically treated. Quotation is employed to sketch a comprehensive outline of Bookchin’s ideas, often reproduced to the letter. The titles of articles in the corpus from which many of the lines containing Bookchin are drawn confirm this pattern of dedication to covering the author’s vision as a coherent whole. Examples (see data repository) include Bookchin’s Revolutionary Program (Biehl, 2015) and Reason, Creativity, and Freedom: The communalist model (Finley, 2017). It is remarkable in this respect that whereas Marx “called”, Bookchin “argued” (Figs 6 and 8). The artist identifies an image, while the theorist develops a vision.

Bookchin’s appearance in the corpus is intimately connected with the presence of Öcalan, the second most referenced person in the corpus. Öcalan is “the founder of the proscribed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish freedom movement” (Hunt, 2019, pp. 7–8). Since 1999, he has been imprisoned by the Turkish state (Hunt, 2019, p. 8). Like Bookchin, Öcalan became “disaffected” with the “Marxist-Leninist [legacy]”, which had heavily informed the PKK at its inception (Hunt, 2019, p. 9–10). Öcalan found renewed hope for liberation through a “close reading of Bookchin’s philosophy of social ecology”, and his conversion would deeply affect the workings of the Kurdish freedom movement (Hunt, 2019, p. 10). In the de facto autonomous region of Rojava in northern Syria, Bookchin and Öcalan’s principles of social ecology and “democratic confederalism” are currently implemented on a large scale (Gerber and Brincat, 2018, p. 21; Hunt, 2019, p. 10). The majority of concordance lines generated for Öcalan in the corpus reveal parts of this narrative. On occasion, Öcalan, corresponding from prison, is quoted directly, and at length:

“It has become clear that our theory, program and praxis of the 1970s produced nothing but futile separatism and violence and, even worse, that the nationalism we should have opposed infested all of us. Even though we opposed it in principle and rhetoric, we nonetheless accepted it as inevitable.” Once the unquestioned leader, Öcalan now reasoned that “dogmatism is nurtured by abstract truths which become habitual ways of thinking. As soon as you put such general truths into words you feel like a high priest in the service of his god. That was the mistake I made”.Footnote 7

This extract reveals an uneasy argumentative procedure, reminiscent of the invocation of Marx’s vocabulary as an antidote to the “poetry of the past”. The quote cannot serve to strengthen the logos of the argument, as it takes a position against adherence to the dogmatic truth-value of words. Drawing on a combination of pathos and ethos, the ultimate function of this quotation is to illustrate not only Öcalan’s conversion, but also the piety of his confession as he acknowledges his accountability for the mistakes made by the physical and theoretical violence committed under his command.

Reference, mythology, and community

The interrelation between Marx, Bookchin and Öcalan now begins to take clear shape. Marx, invoked to bury Lenin, exists outside time. A figure of eternity, his spirit forever animates the works and words of the revolutionary minded. Marx names, and by naming brings into being the paradigm of resistance and revolution. Marx, the Creator. Bookchin inherited the Old Testament, the Marxist canon, and found it lacking. He retreated into the deserts of anarchism to face its demons and salvage what was worth saving. Eventually, he produced a renewed paradigm, a step-by-step outline of the future aspired to. Bookchin, the Prophet, the one who envisions (Fig. 8). Öcalan is the dogmatist who for too long stuck to the old law, with disastrous consequences. When, in his secluded and desperate state, he stumbled upon the writings of the prophet, however, he reinvented himself and the movement that relied upon him. His conversion came too late for him, but not for his people. Öcalan, the Martyr sacrificed himself for the sake of developing a healthy Kurdish society. Finally, ROAR itself: the final gospel, as yet apocryphal, but aspiring to canonical status by documenting these developments.

ROAR Magazine presents itself as a journal that contributes to concrete struggles for real democracy by offering theoretical interventions. The Kurdish struggle provides the magazine with an almost perfect illustration of its own statement of purpose, as it moves from theory to practice, and from protest to revolution. Furthermore, the political developments in Rojava are manifestly anti-capitalist, which strengthens ROAR’s historical timeline in a manner that would be difficult to sustain with reference to other outgrowths of the Arab uprisings that form part of the “global wave of protests”. At the same time, ROAR may document the movement from Marx to Bookchin to Öcalan, culminating in the Rojava Revolution, but if the people involved in this event do not subscribe to the same genealogy, this lineage would remain an abstract interpretation. ROAR’s alignment with the front-lines, however, is evidenced through eyewitness reports:

Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief. However, to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely. “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them”.Footnote 8

The anonymous someone completes the distribution of roles among Creator, Prophet, and Martyr with the final category: that of the Disciple, the one who adheres to an unfolding destiny. The cycle seems complete. Revolutionary quotations now sustain the structure of daily life. Ultimate authority for the interpretation of events lies with the eyewitness (Zelizer, 2007, p. 408). The disciple is the foundational factor mediating between the representation of a mythology and the formation of an interpretative community. Every community requires a mythology, expressed in its shared symbols, culture and history. I demonstrated earlier how the figures of Marx, Bookchin and Öcalan are staged through ROAR’s quotation practices as incarnations of archetypal religious categories, while the concrete presentation of these authors’ utterances serves to pass on highly culture-specific revolutionary values. The successful mythology created in this process offers a means of identification for a readership symbolically engaging with ROAR’s virtual community; this community gains a material base through the figure of the eyewitness.

Donald Trump enjoys a particular position within this mythological framework. He is mentioned no fewer than 60 times, but never quoted. Trump is represented, but not given a voice. The focus is on the calamity of his reign and the perils it announces, as in the following example:

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, devastating images and memories of the First and Second World Wars flood our minds. Anti-rationalism, racialized violence, scapegoating, misogyny, and homophobia have been unleashed from the margins of society and brought into the political mainstream.Footnote 9

The author associates Trump here with the worst evils of the past, as well as a plethora of present menaces. These evils have been unleashed, a verb always reminiscent of the hounds of hell. Passages of this type make clear that, condemned to silence within ROAR’s gospel but projecting an ever looming presence, Trump gives form to a Satanic archetype; a diabolical incarnation able to resurrect mankind’s worst temptations. Made to bear all the ills of the global community, he further functions as a scapegoat, to be driven out into the wilderness if the community is to survive. The passage cited above, which opens the essay from which it is drawn, is preceded with a quote that heads the article. The quote is attributed to Bookchin, and ends as follows:

“The direction we select … may well determine the future of our species for centuries to come”.

The opposition between Trump and Bookchin that frames the article illustrates the extent to which the mythological pattern outlined above influences publication practices within ROAR. Bookchin is further discussed later in the article with reference to the situation in Rojava. What the author does not mention, however, is that the revolutionaries in Rojava tactically collaborate with the Trump administration (Hunt, 2019, p. 22). This collaboration might be opportunistic on both sides, and not indicative of sustained future alliance, but to position the Trump administration in direct opposition to the revolutionary Kurdish endeavors arguably suggests a pre-determined narrative emplotment that does not necessarily correspond to the reality of the situation.

The Patreon page discussed in section “ROAR Magazine’s online presence and the contents of the corpus” reveals another dimension of quotation. The community of patrons revels in its own growth by tracking how many people pledge donations. This is expressed in terms of goals, which consist of a number aspired to and an accompanying textual explanation. While other crowdfunding initiatives may attach envisaged stages of product development to such goals, ROAR primarily promises to keep up the work they have been engaged in, and these textual spaces are filled with humorous references to revolutionary rhetoric. The goal of reaching 200 patrons, for instance, is associated with the following quote:

At last, the integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.

While not explicitly attributed, the quote is from Marx’s Capital (1976, p. 929). The realization of the goal obviously has no bearing on any actions the journal’s editors plan to perform. The language is archaic and pompous. The quote, in short, is ironic and close to a joke. As such, it approaches the status of an internet meme: obvious in reference, yet ambiguous in meaning. The consolidation of a sense of community on the crowdfunding page demands humor, “an essential ingredient of everyday interaction and socialization” (Boxer and Cortés-Conde, 1997, p. 275). Indeed, “uniting interlocutors against the foibles of an absent other” is a highly successful bonding strategy (Boxer and Cortés-Conde, 1997, p. 283). The ironic quotation mocks the Marxian vocabulary to consolidate the community. However, as reference is not provided, to understand the joke the reader has to be familiar with exactly this vocabulary, and therefore in some sense attached to it. Bonding, indeed, may turn into “biting”, as recipients can only interpret the joke to their own detriment (Boxer and Cortés-Conde, 1997). As demonstrated earlier, moreover, Marx’s poetic vocabulary serves an important textual function within ROAR, and ironic treatment destabilizes this structural feature of the publication’s mythology.

The creation of a cross-platform sense of community invites the hazardous practice of mocking the Gods while praying. In trying to appeal to the crowd in humorous fashion, community comes to meet its complement, immunity. Immunity, as has been convincingly argued, “is the internal limit which cuts across community, folding it back on itself in a form that is both constitutive and deprivative: immunity constitutes or reconstitutes community precisely by negating it” (Esposito, 2011, p. 9). The ironic ambivalence of the quote from Marx is a defense mechanism necessitated by the exposure to a crowdfunding environment. Humor simultaneously consolidates and destabilizes ROAR’s discursive identity, and the identity of the community that arises from it. The incentive for the creation of ROAR was the disaster of financial contagion, inaugurated by the repackaging of debt. Securitization, in principle meant to spread risk, set in motion a fatal process of autoimmunity: the system turned against itself at a hint of uncertainty. In negotiating its online identity across platforms, ROAR mobilizes the iterability of the sign to repackage its debt to the Marxian heritage. Should the logic of the market call for further fragmentation, the integument may well burst asunder. The market indeed demands the continuous deployment of magical formulae, be they novel slogans or old quotations, the outcomes of which are manifestly uncertain.

Conclusion

I started with a consideration of sense of community in virtual environments, and argued that developing “a common symbol system” is central to the formation of online communities. Keywords, in this respect, are central elements of a community’s communicative repertoire, yet, as the analysis has shown with reference to democracy, they do not circulate freely but depend on validation by an individual’s authority. This observation was followed by an analysis of frequently mentioned names in ROAR Magazine, focusing on instances of quotation and paraphrase. Bearing in mind the wide range of options available for establishing logical and emotional links on the internet, such reference strategies were shown to generally contribute to the ethos of a virtual community, although they fulfill different functions according to the person with which they are associated. The distribution of roles gleaned from this analysis was explained from a mythopoetic viewpoint, which was shown to govern the magazine’s inner narrative to the extent of overriding real-world relations such as those between Trump and the Kurds—a relation of alliance that is, at the time of writing, under significant pressure. The carefully crafted identity of the publication, which sustains its status as a community endeavor, was shown to be consolidated on the crowdfunding platform Patreon. Negotiating the identity of the publication across different environments, however, may ultimately not just consolidate, but also corrode the coherence of the sense of community created in the main text of the magazine. In response to the Internet’s increasingly interactive design, platforms such as Patreon stimulate businesses to anticipate a broadly conversational encounter. That is to say, self-presentation on a crowdfunding platform involves a mimicked anticipation of a situation that—in this case—demands the adaptation, for better or worse, of the cultural homogeneity of ROAR as an independent body of textual production.

To take account of such influences, the analysis shifted focus at various points, especially when a meaningful interpretation of the corpus-generated concordance lines demanded an adjustment of perspective. Such flexibility is only feasible when the dataset is relatively small, representative of a linguistic community that can be considered in detail, and when access to full texts not provided through the concordance browser is readily available. In this respect, the account I presented can be questioned on the grounds of representativeness. While aiming to provide a fair representation of general sentiments illustrated with clear examples, I have not discussed all concordance lines generated by the queries that guided the research. Furthermore, while the keyword democracy, which provided the starting point for the analysis, occurs in the majority of articles in the study corpus, the proper names on which much of the analysis focused do not. Only 37 out of 100 articles in the corpus, produced by 27 authorial entities, mention Trump, Bookchin, Öcalan or Marx. This does not invalidate the findings offered here, but does raise the question of whether competing and perhaps even contradictory principles of narrative emplotment, not connected to reference strategies, structure the remainder of the corpus. Furthermore, ROAR has published hundreds of articles during the present decade, and while sampling a broad period, the corpus cannot lay claim to representativeness regarding the publication as a whole. Finally, it should be stressed that ROAR’s position often forms part of a broader discursive consensus, as illustrated by the secondary literature cited on the connection between Bookchin and Öcalan, which closely corresponds to ROAR’s representation of this historical linkage as presented here.

On the other hand, as discussed in the introduction, a criticism often levelled at corpus-based research is that its data are “as decontextualized as any linguistic information could possibly be” (Partington, 1998, p. 145). At the same time, online material, which heavily relies on hyper-textual reading, inherently decontextualizes, and accessing the material through a concordance browser thus only reduces some of the options for organizing the material while adding others. The study of reference strategies such as direct quotation and paraphrase illustrates that re-organizing the textual material of a fragmented body of online texts can reveal patterns that are only observed through a temporary suspension of co-textual and contextual deference. Contextual relations eventually need to be reasserted for the impact of the patterns to be revealed, however, and this once again strengthens the case for small-scale corpus-assisted studies that are not limited to the analysis of concordance lines. Malinowski, confronted with seemingly meaningless or at least incomprehensible magical formulae, came to the simple yet seminal conclusion that, regarding the constituent parts of any spell, “most words can be translated if we know for what reason they are used” (Malinowski, 2002, p. 221). In order to determine relevant patterns of usage, the anthropologist observed the bodily movements that accompanied the recitation of sacred utterances whose authority rested upon tradition, and thus, memetic transference. In an online environment, where the tactile motions of corporeal behavior are generally harder to trace, the use, and therefore the specific meaning of key terms and references governing a given discourse may on the surface remain obscure to the uninitiated. However, as illustrated in the previous analysis, a specified corpus and a browser that lends access to its contents aid in laying bare the procedures of enchantment sustaining virtual communities.

The Genealogies corpus contains material from dozens of online outlets situated across the political spectrum; beyond further explorations of ROAR Magazine, comparative studies of reference across different outlets would make for fruitful future research. The current study examined reference by querying the occurrence of personal proper names in order to identify the common symbol system sustaining a sense of community within a cross-platform online publication. Yet the study of naming and reference offers many other avenues for future research. Questions of what and who is represented within the textual body are likely to become more pressing as information overload, censorship and willful disinformation come to shape the virtual negotiation of meaning that constitutes the symbolic core of our global sense of community.

Data availability

The dataset analyzed during the current study is specified in the following repository: https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/OTSLOH&version=DRAFT&faces-redirect=true. The dataset is searchable via the software available on http://genealogiesofknowledge.net/. All material on ROAR is published under a creative commons license. Everyone is free to translate or republish the content for non-commercial purposes as long as ROAR is referenced and a link to the original source is provided.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In the present study, the term “keyword” serves to indicate cultural significance for a linguistic community. In corpus-based research, however, “keyword” is also used to refer to a lexical item with an exceptionally high frequency in a certain study corpus, as well as to the search item for which concordance lines are generated. As corpus-based research tends to focus on significant patterns of usage, these distinctions at times blend into one another, as they do in the analysis of democracy presented here.

  2. 2.

    Beyond the scope of this study, but certainly of interest, is the frequent occurrence in the corpus of proper names denoting political spaces (examples include Rojava, 254 occurrences) and political parties such as Syriza (137 occurrences).

  3. 3.

    These include four instances that explicitly refer to Bookchin’s daughter, Debbie Bookchin. These stem from an interview in which Debbie talks about her father’s contributions to revolutionary theory.

  4. 4.

    Source: “Towards a New Anti-Capitalist Politics”, by Jerome Roos.

  5. 5.

    An asterisk after an item in a search query functions as a wildcard, i.e., recalls all items beginning with the relevant string—in this case, calls, called, calling. Sources: Line 1 (“Socialize the Internet!”, by Joseph Todd); Line 2 (“The Street Syndicate: Re-organizing Informal Work”, by Carlos Delclós); Line 3 (“Athens must be destroyed: of distressed Greeks and debt”, by Richard Schuberth); Line 4 (“Reimagining our collective powers against austerity”, by Max Haiven).

  6. 6.

    Source: “The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan” (Taylor, 2014).

  7. 7.

    Source: “The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan” (Taylor, 2014).

  8. 8.

    Source: “Impressions of Rojava: A report from the revolution” (Biehl, 2014).

  9. 9.

    Source: “Reason, creativity and freedom: the communalist model” (Finley, 2017).

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (Grant number: AH/M010007/1).

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Correspondence to Jan Buts.

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Buts, J. Community and authority in ROAR Magazine. Palgrave Commun 6, 16 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-0392-9

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