MA Thesis: Wikipedia and Encyclopaedism

MA Thesis: Wikipedia and Encyclopaedism

Abstract: This thesis considers how Wikipedia justifies, structures, and legitimizes its production of knowledge. To do so the thesis positions Wikipedia as a site of conflict over the epistemic values between its wiki and encyclopaedic traditions. Through the literature review, the wiki epistemology is argued to be composed of six values: self-identification, collaboration, co-construction, cooperation, trust in the community, and constructionism. While these values are explicit, encyclopaedism’s were not found to be equally defined. To fill this gap, the thesis conducts a genre analysis of encyclopaedism. It first identifies the genre through its communicative purposes to create a universal system of total knowledge and to use this system to educate the public. Second, an analysis of recurrent social contexts within Chambers’ Cyclopaedia (1728), Diderot & d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie (1751–72), the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771–), and Wikipedia (2001–) finds that the communicative purposes are achieved through the use of five epistemic values: utility, systematic organization, authority, trust in experts, and consistency. Third, a comparison spanning 240 years between Wikipedia and the Britannica’s article headings finds that the value of systematic organization structures Wikipedia’s articles using seventeenth century categories of knowledge. Having established two sets of values that determine Wikipedia’s production of knowledge, the thesis sets the stage for future research to analyze how Wikipedia’s epistemology is articulated in its different production spaces. Ultimately, such research may not only describe the shifting values of Wikipedia’s epistemology but also explain how knowledge is transformed and produced in the network society.


Wikipedia, knowledge, encyclopedism, genre analysis, network society, epistemology


Pierre Lévy (Department of Communication, University of Ottawa)

Official Copy

University of Ottawa’s institutional repository





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