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Submissions/Wikis, Knowledge, and Power: The Implications of a Folkloristic Perspective on Wikipedia

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

This is a rejected submission for Wikimania 2012.

Submission no.


Title of the submission
Wikis, Knowledge, and Power: The Implications of a Folkloristic Perspective on Wikipedia
Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)
Author of the submission
William Westerman
E-mail address


Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

The relatively small academic discipline of folkloristics is chiefly concerned with what would be considered, in everyday terms, the "unofficial," including informal and unofficial means of communication and the ways people create and find meaning in their lives outside or alongside of official institutions and official systems of knowledge. Folk communication and folk knowledge is, by definition, informal, unfixed, self-correcting, traditional yet changing across time and place; its rules are unspoken or determined in the practice of community life. Wikis and open source software are also just this: self-correcting, decentralized, antiauthoritarian methods of organizing the practice of knowledge in cyberspace. There is an inherent politics in that, one which challenges the dominance of central authorities, be they programmers, academics, corporations, or other powerful institutions.

Wikipedia in its first ten years has taken the concept of the encyclopedia - the condensation of human knowledge - and radically decentralized the authority of knowledge production. In so doing Wikipedia is a process of folk communication on a grand scale, which is both its power and, to those gatekeepers who would consolidate the power of and behind knowledge, its threat. This paper analyzes Wikipedia, wikis, and the open source movement from the perspective of folkloristics and Mannheim's concept of the sociology of knowledge. What are the implications of not only decentralizing authority in the production and communication of knowledge, but challenging who has the right to make epistemological decisions about the media for conveying knowledge to a broader public? To do so requires looking at the editorial folk culture of the Wikipedian community, and the relationship of epistemological reliability to political power.

Length of presentation/talk
25 Minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Slides or further information (optional)
PowerPoint slides
Special request as to time of presentations

Cannot be present on Thursday the 12th.

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  1. Shunlingchen (talk) 18:19, 22 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  2. SarahStierch (talk) 23:56, 24 March 2012 (UTC)[reply]
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