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IRC16 - Proposed Session - #WikiShadows (Techno-Political Contours of Knowledge Production on Wikipedia)

Posted by Sumandro Chattapadhyay at Dec 04, 2015 06:05 AM |
This is a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference (IRC) 2016 by Tanveer Hasan and Rahmanuddin Shaik.



Wikipedia is a group project, and people in the group need to have separate pages to discuss changes and improvements to Wikipedia's content, be that an article, a policy, a help page, or something anything else. Reading these discussion pages is a vastly rewarding, slightly addictive, experience. Sometimes reading Wikipedia can ruffle feathers.

E.g. 1:

The song, Jana-gana-mana, composed originally in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore, was adopted in its Hindi version by the Constituent Assembly as the National Anthem of India on January 24, 1950. It was first sung on December 27, 1911 at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress. [1]

Whereas Wikipedia entry of National anthem mentions thus:

"Jana Gana Mana is the national anthem of India. Written in highly Sanskritised (Tatsama) Bengali." [2]

E.g. 2:

Are these beautiful waterfalls on the Kaveri River located in Tamil Nadu – or on the border between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka – or in Tamil Nadu on its border with Karnataka? Or is it really the Cauvery river, and Hogenakal Falls? [3]

Whatever you believe, be sure to bring a (Google) map to the debate, and point out that your opponent's sources are not RS or NPOV!

E.g. 3:

Born of Serbian parents in a part of the Austrian Empire, which a short time later became a part of the Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary and is now in Croatia. He eventually became a naturalized citizen of the US. [4]

So was he Serbian? Croatian? Austrian? Austro-Hungarian? Istro-Romanian? Jewish? American? Martian? You decide! But don't forget to leave an edit summary saying how pathetic it is to choose any other version. (Guess who are we talking about?) Clue: He is inventor par excellence.

In this day and age where information is often a touch and go process, a forgotten mode, a solitary quest towards creating knowledge sounds romantic (almost). Networked collaborations (such as Wikipedia) which have created Knowledge sites have led to democratic interpretation and assimilation of such knowledge. They also as a basic necessity have sprung up various modes of annotation, verifiability of the Knowledge thus produced and utility quotient of the same. After all, why create and hold on to information that no body really cares about.



In this discussion session, the co-leaders of the session shall attempt to peel out the benign face of the visible Wikipedia page(there is a hidden world out there) and discuss the political, technological and social contours of information available on Wikipedia. We shall take the participants through the various stages of discussion about a Wikipedia page and how discussions tend to alter the course of an article. How false consensus is proposed, consent is manufactured and how these efforts are usually defeated by 'Answer People' and 'Vandal Fighters'. It is no less of a war than the one between information and mis-information. The discussion on, calculus, for instance, was host to some sparring over whether the concept of "limit," central to calculus, should be better explained as an "average."

This discussion session brings to the table questions of legitimisation of knowledge and the inherent hierarchies that operate even within open networks of collaboration and offers a critique on consumption oriented knowledge production. The session also aims to ask questions around knowledge as an agent that has levelled some of the earlier existing contours but has introduced some of its own and how that has changed our usages and shapes our experiences.

The session will involve an edit-a-thon on a topic that will be selected by the co-leaders of the session and live commentary on the discussion pages will be tracked for further analysis. The session intends to build a dialogue towards attempting to problematise the questions of the starkly hierarchical and segmented experiences that have played a significant role in production of knowledge in the era of new knowledge practices. The session also will question the 'best practices' in building consent in the present global techno-economic contours of the internet, and its effect on academic spaces, creative practice and intervention.



  1.  Using Talk Pages
  2. Talk page guidelines
  3. Tutorial on Wikipedia talk pages
  4. Introduction to talk pages
  5. A Wikipedia Reader (pdf, 6.6 MB)



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Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the [email protected] programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.