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Theory of the Hashtag

Andreas Bernard

ISBN: 978-1-509-53893-5 July 2019 Polity 110 Pages

Description

This is a short book about the most prominent sign of our times.  The simple # sign is now used so widely that it is easy to overlook the fundamental effects it has had in the structuring of public debate.  With its help, statements are bundled together and discourse is organized and amplified around common buzzwords.  This method enables us to navigate more easily the huge volume of online utterances, but it also increases the risk of leveling statements and extinguishing difference, as exemplified by the #MeToo debate.

Andreas Bernard traces the young and spectacular career of the humble hashtag.  He follows the history of the # sign, documenting its use by Twitter and Instagram, and then examines the most prominent contemporary domains of the sign in socio-political activism and in marketing – two apparently very different fields which are united in their passion for the hashtag. Theory of the Hashtag shines a bright light on a small but pervasive feature of our contemporary digital culture and shows how it is surreptitiously shaping the public sphere. 

Contents
1. A Sign of the Times
2. Hashtags and the Dispersion of Statements
3. The Biography of a Symbol
4. Where Was the Keyword Before the Hashtag?
5. Venues of the Hashtag I: Political Activism
6. Venues of the Hashtag II: Marketing
7. Empowering and Levelling
Works Cited

“A lucid and lively history of this most polymorphous of punctuation marks.  Andreas Bernard traces the hashtag's rise from technical utility to seeming ubiquity with wit and insight.”
Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths, University of London

"Slim but weighty"
Morning Star