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Beyond the legacy of the enlightenment? Online encyclopaedias as digital heterotopias

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Publication (help)
Beyond the legacy of the enlightenment? Online encyclopaedias as digital heterotopias
Authors: Jutta Haider, Olof Sundin [edit item]
Citation: First Monday 15 (1): 16. 2010 January.
Publication type: Journal article
Peer-reviewed: Yes
DOI: Define doi.
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Link(s): Paper link
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Beyond the legacy of the enlightenment? Online encyclopaedias as digital heterotopias is a publication by Jutta Haider, Olof Sundin.

[edit] Abstract

This article explores how we can understand contemporary participatory online encyclopaedic expressions, particularly Wikipedia, in their traditional role as continuation of the Enlightenment ideal, as well as in the distinctly different space of the Internet. Firstly we position these encyclopaedias in a historical tradition. Secondly, we assign them a place in contemporary digital networks which marks them out as sites in which Enlightenment ideals of universal knowledge take on a new shape. We argue that the Foucauldian concept of heterotopia, that is special spaces which exist within society, transferred online, can serve to understand Wikipedia and similar participatory online encyclopaedias in their role as unique spaces for the construction of knowledge, memory and culture in late modern society.

[edit] Research questions

"In the following, while we will discuss various kinds of other encyclopaedic projects, what we particularly have in mind is Wikipedia. And what we want to come at is a better understanding of the encyclopaedic tradition in which it stands as well as of its uniquely contemporary character which for one breaks with the tradition of controlled expertise and secondly makes it constitute a digital space which is more and something different than a (printed) encyclopaedia.

To keep things short, we will discuss how Wikipedia can be regarded as a contemporary heterotopia connecting Enlightenment and modern traditions of encyclopaedism with a late modern notion of production, organisation and consumption of knowledge. First of all, however, to clarify what we talk about and to situate Wikipedia in the appropriate context, we will look at the various types of existing online encyclopaedias. Subsequently, we turn to introducing Foucault’s notion of heterotopia."

Research details

Topics: Encyclopedias, Epistemology [edit item]
Domains: Philosophy, Information science, Library science [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Case [edit item]
Theories: "Undetermined" [edit item]
Research design: Case study, Conceptual [edit item]
Data source: [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: N/A [edit item]
Unit of analysis: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia language: Not specified [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"To sum up, claiming that Wikipedia constitutes a break with enlightenment and with modernity would go too far, but it seems save to say that it represents a fissure. In many ways, Wikipedia has come to symbolise contemporary views on knowledge. It does that in its striving for neutrality through the simultaneous representations of different versions of knowledge, held in place with references, and in the way in which it enhances the status of lay people as well as in its functioning as a space for our cultural memory, in all its versions.

Thus, the online encyclopaedic project of Wikipedia embodies not the end of knowledge as we know it, but rather the marriage between modernity and late modernity within the heterotopian spaces of Wikipedia’s different language versions. In this sense, while a cynical interpretation of Wikipedia’s reliance on other texts and outside sources, could be called ‘source positivism’, or be described as a late modern strategy in which text is everything, seeing it as a digital heterotopia allows us to offer a more positive interpretation. Since we understand Wikipedia in spatial terms as a site of juxtaposition and simultaneity, a digital memory place in which people meet and create knowledge and knowledge structures, and most of all as a space which constantly changes, it points to a more fundamental shift. Our metaphorical heroes from the start of the paper, Bouvard and Pécuchet, have found something worthwhile to do, in Wikipedia writing is doing and copying is no longer a sign of defeat."

[edit] Comments

"Wikipedia, in its striving to neutrality, in the way in which it enhances the status of lay people and in its functioning as a space for our cultural memory has come to symbolize contemporary views on knowledge."

Further notes[edit]