So given what’s going on* in Egypt and the Middle East, we in the West are fascinated by not so much revolutions and popular uprisings against dictatorial regimes, but an efficacious use of social media. Even Clinton is talking about the Internet as “the world’s town square”, and it seems that the old conversation about the Internet and the public sphere is going to flare up for the third time (1993-5 and 2001-3 are the other two times). Since Habermas is generally credited for bringing this notion of the public sphere to the forefront of popular, political, and academic discourse, it is natural to cite him. Then critique him to death, talking about how we need to get beyond an old white guy’s theories. And it feels good, I know.
The problem is that most people only read his first book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, which was written in 1962, and then proceed to critique “the Habermasian public sphere.” I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read which demand that we ‘move beyond’ Habermas or go ‘post-Habermasian’ and only cite Structural Transformation. It’s a great literary foil if you’re advancing your own concept of the public sphere, and the whole ‘new events require a re-evaluation of old theories’ is a mainstay of academia. As a crazy post-Latourian socio-technical ethnographer who grants agency to everything (literally, every single thing) except for social structures, it is weird that I’m defending him. But I’m also a huge proponent of keeping your intellectual allies close and your intellectual opponents closer.
* I love how all our social/cultural/economic/political theories of the state, legitimacy, revolution, and democracy are undergoing their most radical problematization since the fall of the Soviet Union, such that we don’t know how to name the events in the past month, thus we settle on something like “what’s going on.”
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. Continue reading …
This panel was going to be something else, but something happened and it became a panel with James Forrester, Andrew Lih, Kat Walsh, and Charles Matthews. Everyone except for Lih is or has been on the Arbitration Committee, and this turned into a discussion about admins. Continue reading …
I’ve been tossing around this concept of the memetic inkblot, which refers to units of cultural information (memes) that have effectively no singular semiotic value and therefore serve as a psychosocial indicator. In other words, they are so vague and open to interpretation that you can learn a lot about someone by asking someone to give a simple definition of them. Now, if semiotics has taught me anything, it is that the sign is nothing but a social construction, and I do not intend to make the mistake of attributing intrinsic value to any meme. Obviously, how someone feels about anything is a way you can learn about them, but these concepts are so vague that they rarely have a stable, concise definition.
10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help by Benjamin Wiker
I recently picked this up while browsing the philosophy section of a local bookstore. On a side note, I love to look at what different bookstores call “Philosophy,” as they often differ greatly. Anyways, the title intrigued me and I picked it up and started reading, as I had a good bit of time to waste. I had a good idea of what the ten books would be (some Marx, Hitler, Nietzsche, among others). I’ll save you all the trouble and post the list here, with descriptions from the publisher:
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.
This is an investigation into an Internet subculture which I wrote for a class I took titled “Rhetorics of Cybercultures.” It is an ethnography into the community formed by small number of Wikipedia contributors who care enough to decide how, at some level, Wikipedia is run. The work discusses identity, communication, and organizational hierarchy in this subculture.
My thesis, written 2006 and 2007 in partial fulfillment of my undergraduate degree at The University of Texas at Austin, studied the legal culture of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that is collaboratively edited over one hundred thousand contributors around the world. Despite the fact that the project emphasizes freedom and gives off an aura of structurelessness, Wikipedia has a complex and often hidden legal system, dominating every contribution made to the encyclopedia. This thesis uses methods in legal anthropology to examine the law through stories and histories, giving the reader a sense of not only what the Wikipedian legal system is, but also what fundamental assumptions the community makes in utilizing such a system. No specific knowledge of Wikipedia or legal philosophy is necessary for the full comprehension of this work, although readers who are familiar with one or both might find it especially relevant.
I should note that this work has many flaws, and is currently being revised. Please send me an e-mail if you wish to cite it, as it is of a draft-like quality. I have realized that it is built on a fundamental misconception that juridical power structures (that is, ways of conceptualizing the role of law) are universal. I am in the process of writing a more dialectical “social history” of Wikipedia that recognizes the interdependency of hard and soft norms, social roles and relationships, as well as formal and informal social networks in Wikipedia.
In his book Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, William Mitchell describes how information technology – specifically digital, wireless networks which are accessed primarily through portable devices – fundamentally changes how we interact with others. More than anything else, “[c]onnectivity had become the defining characteristic of our twenty-first-century urban condition” (11). For Mitchell, we have given up the virtual reality fantasy that dominated predictions made in previous decades in lieu of subtler revolution: that of the networked self, the Me++.