Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




William Shaffir




While media presentation of hackers and other members of the "computer underground" tend to be pejorative, such representations are often based solely on the viewpoints of "outsiders." As such, society is presented with an image of the hacker subculture that fails to examine the meanings hackers attribute to their activities. Employing symbolic interactionist theory and taking an ethnographic approach to understand the experiences and activities of hackers, this thesis has sought to examine and analyse various characteristics of the hacker subculture. Information pertaining to how hackers define themselves and their activities, the principles underlying the hacker ideology and the distinctive elements of the hacker language constituted the main focus of this thesis. Fifteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with self-defined hackers and fieldwork was undertaken to collect data on and off the Internet during hacker meetings and interactions, and from hacker news groups, web sites, and subcultural publications.

Findings from this thesis reveal that the hacker subculture is quite complex and is socially constructed through small-group interactions in various local subcultures that, while dissimilar in some respects, identify with characteristics of the transnational hacker subculture. Along with the application of role labels, adopting the hacker ideology and argot serve as identifying traits, which are used to situate different subcategories of hackers within the subculture in terms of their status, skill and the perceived ethics of their activities. Condemning "inaccurate" media portrayals of their subculture, imputing labels to others within the subculture to differentiate between "good" and "bad" hackers, invoking the hacker ideology as a vocabulary of motive, and linking their perspective to outsiders viewed favourably by the public, all serve as ways of managing the stigma attached to hackers' deviant public identity. A number of other theoretical and substantive findings, as well as recommendations for future research, are presented.

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