This paper is a Foucauldian account of power relations as expressed through discourse in the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia. Using Foucault’s methodology as developed in The Archaeology of Knowledge, a conflict over the existence of an article on one of Wikipedia’s competitors (Encyclopedia Dramatica) will be analyzed. By examining both official and unofficial sources, it is shown that conflicts over content in Wikipedia are structured around a network of organizing questions.
Abstract: Wikipedia – “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” – has become an exemplar of the so-called Web 2.0, an emerging Internet-based media space that emphasizes collaboration and free production of knowledge. Nearly any individual who visits the website can edit nearly any article in any way desired; one can fix an incorrect fact or grammatical error as well as vandalize and slander. The project is often depicted in one of two different ways: first, as a harmonious, unstructured anarchy in which order mysteriously arises; and second, as a dystopic state-of-nature in which truth is relative and only subject to the masses. In response, this paper rejects both of those depictions and instead focuses on a Foucauldian account of power relations in the on-line encyclopedia. Using Foucault’s methodology as developed in The Archaeology of Knowledge, a conflict over the existence of an article on one of Wikipedia’s competitors – Encyclopedia Dramatica, a satirical and frequently obscene parody of Wikipedia – is analyzed. This paper works through Foucault’s method of bringing a discourse’s “discursive regularities” to light by beginning with the most basic question of discourse: What is recognized as a statement in this discursive space? This analysis is followed by the identification of how statements construct discursive objects, which in turn create enunciative modalities or subject positions, which are themselves organized around concepts. By examining both official and unofficial sources, it is shown that conflicts over content in Wikipedia are coordinated in network of organizing questions that structure these concepts. The Wikipedian discourse is therefore distinguished not due to its ideals that determine rules for content, but rather in the way in which these concepts are organized.
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