Submissions/The Power of Wikipedia: Legitimacy and Territorial Control

From Wikimania 2012 • Washington, D.C., USA

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2012.

Submission no.


Title of the submission

The Power of Wikipedia: Legitimacy and Territorial Control

Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)


Author of the submission
Iolanda Pensa in collaboration with Isla Haddow and Francis Awinda
E-mail address
Country of origin
Italy, South Africa
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
Iolanda Pensa, lettera27 Foundation, Wikimedia Italia, Italy; Isla Haddow, Africa Centre, South Africa; Francis Awinda, Africa Centre, South Africa/Kenya.
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)
Wikimedia chapters: existing, planned, in discussion

Wikipedia seems to ignore half a century of studies and debates about identity, esotism, otherness and eurocentrism. As post-independence and colonial nations, today most powerful encyclopedia and knowledge distributing system acts in the same way as post-independence and colonial nations did: it focuses its geopolitical approach on nation building[1] languages[2], monuments, heritage and landmarks[3]. Wikimedia Foundation is based in the US and it is regularly accused to impose a US-centric cultural model; Wikipedia in English is the largest Wikipedia version and it is permanently distancing all other linguistic editions[4]. Those predominances generate power tensions and they nourish nationalist approaches. Wikipedia can speak with governments [5] and negotiate with them [6]; speaking on behalf of Wikipedia means to speak with the power of a nation. Jimmy Wales, Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia chapters do not represent Wikipedia but – as a matter of fact – they speak on behalf of it. The legitimacy of their role is permanently under discussion, but it is recognised by themselves, the press, national governments and the GLAMs[7]. The success of 2010 fund-raising campaign[8] has further reinforced tensions[9]. Wikimedia chapters claim their role in providing a more balanced cultural approach and in managing decentralised outreached programs[10]. In reality the fund-raising campaign mirrors last century geopolitics with the US and few European countries sharing the cake; Switzerland with a rather independent position and Italy unable to keep a proper slice. With the growing number of GLAMs willing to contribute to Wikimedia projects – even in countries without Wikimedia Chapters – issues of legitimacy and territorial control are becoming more evident. The presentation is based on the experience of the projects WikiAfrica (2006-2012) and Share Your Knowledge (2011-2012).

Track (Wikis and the Public Sector; GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums); WikiCulture and Community; Research, Analysis, and Education; Technology and Infrastructure)
GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums)
Length of presentation/talk (if other than 25 minutes, specify how long)
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Slides or further information (optional)
Presentation draft and Slide used during the presentation
Special request as to time of presentations (for example - can not present on Saturday)


  1. A very interesting essay on the role of cultural heritage on nation building is François Matarasso, History Defaced: Heritage creation in contemporary Europe, Genoa, 19 November 2004.
  2. Ref. Wikimedia incubator and the specific attention dedicated to African languages Florence Devouard, Wikimedia projects in the developing countries, Wikimania 2005, abstract and slides
  3. Territorial scope of chapters, Wiki Loves Monuments 2011 European contest and Wiki takes your city
  4. Ref. Iberocoop presentation at Wikimania 2011.
  5. Wikimedia UK November 2011 Report,
  6. Cfr. Wikipedia in Italian strike in 2011. Jimmy Wales enjoyed the initiative and it pointed at it as model which can be and it has been replicated. Press release Wikipedia blackout supports free and open internet, 2012,
  7. The Project GLAM has been initiated with a strong link to Wikimedia local chapters; contact points are distributed territorially and they mainly involve members of Wikimedia chapters, According to discussion and project sub-pages linked to specific institutions, the Project GLAM has received a strong support more from chapters than from volunteers.
  8. Half a Million People Donate to Keep Wikipedia Free, 01/01/2011,
  9. For an overview of the discussion please refer to
  10. Ref. Wikimedia France programme in Africa and Wikimedia UK 2012 programme including the involving minority ethnic or linguistic community in the UK

Interested attendees

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  1. Il Don Giovanni (talk) 02:41, 18 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  2. Islahaddow (talk) 18:34, 18 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  3. odder (talk) 00:59, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  4. (talk) 10:18, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  5. Léna (talk) 15:04, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  6. Zellfaze (talk) 19:56, 19 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  7. Deryck Chan (talk) 14:35, 20 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  8. SupaplexTW (talk) 02:45, 2 May 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  9. Marcio De Assis (talk) 18:51, 4 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  10. Your name here!