Wikis, Authority and the Public Sphere

Panel Abstract

As social computing practices continue to modify and transform how cultural texts can be generated and circulated, written communities fostered and sustained by wikis offer some insight into the possibilities and pitfalls of dynamic, group authored content production. The fame (and infamy) of Wikipedia as an example of on-line wiki-activity begins to address some of the theoretical issues about authorship raised in late structuralist and poststructuralist thought. For many in the humanities and social sciences, the de-centering of authorship in favor of discursive and systemic modes more attuned to power and historicity across the field of representation has led to novel methods for critical interpretation and evaluation. As such, this panel will consider the avenues by which wiki activity and related social computing phenomena further complicate traditional notions of authorship and, thus, associated issues of authority, originality and value.

Wikis are software programs that allow users to create and edit web pages with a web browser. The implications of open access on the creation and editing of content is profound. In an unprecedented way, wikis allow for discourse to emerge that is continually negotiated and articulated through a community of users; sometimes, literally, thousands of interlocutors. The properties of texts that have emerged from active collaboration test the boundaries of established avenues of knowledge production and modern institutions of knowledge and authority. The recent controversies surrounding Wikipedia speak to the sense of encroachment felt by many established media and information outlets.

This panel seeks papers that analyze and assess prominent examples of wiki collaboration from various theoretical perspectives. We seek papers that address how wikis function in the context of established media and the public sphere. As wikis present the attendant risks associated with any social forum (misrepresentation, hate-speech, hoaxes, vandalism, and the like), how do wiki communities debate, shape and regulate the mores, practices, even the terminology, of public discourse?