This is a paper that I recently got published in gnovis, which is a peer-reviewed journal run entirely by graduate students at Georgetown’s Communication, Culture, and Technology program. It is a sneakishly Latourian intervention into the debate between Habermasians and post-Habermasians regarding the Internet as a (part of the) public sphere. They have been arguing for some time about whether the Internet (and specifically blogging) leads to political fragmentation or real collective action. However, they have all taken for granted the highly-automated software infrastructures that mediate our knowledge of the blogosphere. The article is up in HTML on the gnovis site, but I’ve also made a full-text, metadata friendly PDF simply because Google Scholar likes those. The abstract is after the jump.
This is a paper I wrote for a class on “Technology and Critique” – a class that blended critical theory with Science and Technology Studies. Taking from Bruno Latour’s “Do you believe in Reality? News from the Trenches of the Science Wars,” this work is a critical examination of the way in which the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia has been implicitly cast as a continuation of the Science Wars. Instead of debating about the efficacy and authority of science, academics are now debating the efficacy and authority of Wikipedia. Using Martin Heidegger’s work on ontology and technology, I argue that this particular academic mindset is a way of being-in-the-world that works to either affirm or negate the integration of Wikipedia into its particular projects – namely, the production of academic knowledge. However, I show that asking whether Wikipedia is a reliable academic source enframes Wikipedia into an objectless standing-reserve of potential citations, foreclosing many other possibilities for its use. Instead of following Steven Colbert and countless academics by asking what Wikipedia has done to reality, I ask: what have we done to Wikipedia in the name of reality?
When I took my first Physics class as a High School student, my rather inept lab team developed a catchphrase that was frequently invoked when our experiments resulted in data that wildly contradicted the accepted scientific theory: “Mr. Evans,” we would say to our teacher in a mockingly-apologetic tone, “We broke Physics.” Every time without fail, he would dash our hopes by showing us that we had not yet succeeded in breaking his prized subject; indeed, it we poor experimentalists who were broken and must be repaired. This had the immediate effect of us manipulating the experiment to achieve the predicted result, instead of the traditionally-understood method of using experimentation to arrive at a theory. However, this manipulation was simply for the grade; raised on stories of intrepid and independent scientists, we held out for the day when we would break that monolithic institution by discovering an anomaly that would give us agency over the theories and equations instead of the other way around. Putting aside any Friereian critiques of the student/teacher pedagogic model, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions provides an interesting explanation for this story.
This is a tentative article-length introduction to my thesis on Wikipedia. It is an attempt to analyze Wikipedia from an interdisciplinary perspective that tries to make problematic various assumptions, concepts, and relations that function quite well in the “real world” but are not well-suited to studying Wikipedia. I begin by talking about the nature of academic disciplines, then proceed to a detailed but sparse review of certain prior research on Wikipedia. By examining the problems in previous research within the context of disciplines, I establish a tentative methodology for a holistic study of Wikipedia.