Traditional knowledge is not recognized as knowledge by all who studies it since it includes beliefs, values, and practices" Wikipedia, Traditional Knowledge, 17:25:24 January 2007

The growing subordination of wiki
values on Wikipedia

Presentation abstract: At the core of Wikipedia stands a question, “What can be knowledge?”. This presentation considers the conditions under which Wikipedians attempt to answer this question and in doing so, identifies a troubling epistemological conflict that has repercussions for future mass collaborative projects. During the past twelve years Wikipedians have developed a set of policies and practices to navigate questions of how to validate and authorize knowledge that are constructive, collaborative, and puts trust in the community. These values can be considered indicative of the wiki way of producing knowledge. At the same time, Wikipedians are also involved in the older practice of encyclopaedism, a tradition that values utility, systematic organization, and validates knowledge through experts. In many ways, the combination of these two systems has been largely successful in creating a popular and relatively reliable source of encyclopaedic knowledge. However, there is evidence to suggest that the collaborative and constructive practices of Wikipedia are being subordinated to the values of encyclopaedism. Such examples can be witnessed in the tensions between the inclusionists and the deletionists (Kostakis, 2010), the dissolution of the article “Traditional knowledge” (van der Velden, 2011), and the Userbox debate (Westerman, 2009). By describing these tensions, the presentation seeks to illustrate that the worth of present and future mass collaborative projects cannot be ascertained by their collaborative nature alone. Instead, their ability to create new possibilities of knowledge must be weighed against the hegemonic power structures that they represent and reproduce.


Futurecom Symposium, York University, December 2013

Presentation Website


epistemology, hegemony, Wikipedia, mass collaboration


Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks. New Haven, CT; London, UK: Yale University Press.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. International Publishers, New York.

Kostakis, V. (2010). Identifying and understanding the problems of Wikipedia’s peer governance: The case of inclusionists versus deletionists. First Monday, 15(3).

van der Velden, M. (2011). When Knowledges Meet: Wikipedia and Other Stories from the Contact Zone. In Lovink, G. and Tkacz, N. (Eds.), Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader (pp. 236–257). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Westerman, W. (2009). Epistemology, the Sociology of Knowledge, and the Wikipedia Userbox Controversy. In, Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular expression in a digital world (pp. 123–158). All USU Press Publications.

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