Paula Helm

studied Cultural Anthropology, Sociology and Education at Philipps-University Marburg. She is a Post-Doc in the interdisciplinary project “Structural Transformations of Privacy” in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Goethe University Frankfurt. 2019 she has been Visiting Fellow at the Surveillance Studies Centre (invited by David Lyon). In 2016 Paula published her dissertation “Anonymity and Autonomy – Doing and Undoing Addiction”. From 2014 to 2015, Paula was Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge/New York University where she conducted ethnographic research on self-organized addiction recovery networks (12-Steps). Paula’s research interests include praxeology_ethnomethodology, addiction_therapy, privacy_anonymity, disconnection_reconnection, embodied research, feminist epistemologies.


Core Publications

Helm, P. (2019). Sobriety versus abstinence. How 12-Stepper negotiate recovery across groupsAddiction Research & Theory, 27(1): 29–36.
Helm, P. (2018). Treating sensitive topics online. A privacy dilemmaEthics and Information Technology, 20 (4): 303–313.

Helm, P. (2017). What can self-organized support groups teach us about anonymity? Ephemera. Politics and Theory in Organization. Vol. 17(2): 327–350.
Helm, P. (2017). Group privacy in times of big data, in: Digital Culture and Society. 16(2): 137–152.

Most recent

Helm, P. (2020, under review). From responsible design to responsible usage? Digital Detox, Agency, and the Addiction Algorithm. Science, Technology & Human Values. Special Issue (ed. Gertraud Koch, Lina Franken): Patients´ Changing Agency in the tension of digital and non-digital health communication.

Helm, P. (2020, under review). Brief an meine Kinder. Über Solidarität zwischen Jung und Alt in existentiellen Krisenzeiten. Curare. Zeitschrift für Medizin Ethnologie. Special Issue on Corona. 

Helm, P. 2020. Anonymer Tanz als dekolonialisierende Praxis. Ein embodied-research Ansatz. In Koch, Gertraud/Moser, Johannes/Hansen, Lara (Hg.): Welt, Wissen, Design. Hamburger Journal für Kulturanthropologie.

Helm, Paula. 2020. Knowing, not-knowing, and designing anonymity. In: Koch, Gertraud/Moser, Johannes/Hansen, Lara (Hg.): Welt, Wissen, Design. Hamburger Journal für Kulturanthropologie.

Helm, P. (2020). Longing for a selfless self and other ambivalences of anonymity. A personal account. Anonymous Collective (ed.): Book of Anonymity. New York: Tectum Books.

Helm, P., & Seubert, S. (2020). Normative paradoxes of privacy. Literacy and choice in platform societies. Surveillance & Society, 18(2), S. 185–198.


DETECH – Exploring Cultures of Disconnection. Digital Detox, Hack the Earth, Internet Addiction

Digital burnout, computational mass manipulation, automated inequalities, climate crisis: my project starts with the observation that, in contemporary societies, practices of disconnection emerge as a new cultural trend responding to these problems. While there is much attention given to new forms and practices of technologically mediated connectivity, this project is among the first to investigate disconnection as a socially generated condition of its own right. The disconnection approach neither stems from academia, nor was it born in politics. It instead presents itself when taking a look at civic reactions to technology-related troubles. In the project, I ethnographically investigate, contrast and compare three representative cases of disconnection. Those cases are: 1.) a business model of disconnection – digital detox, 2.) an ecological movement of disconnection – hack the earth, and 3.) a therapy of disconnection – internet addiction.