Wikipedia, critical social theory, and the possibility of rational discourse

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Wikipedia, critical social theory, and the possibility of rational discourse
Authors: Sean Hansen, Nicholas Berente, Kalle Lyytinen [edit item]
Citation: Information Society 5 : 254-72. 2009.
Publication type: Journal article
Peer-reviewed: Yes
Database(s):
DOI: 10.1080/01972240802587562.
Google Scholar cites: Citations
Link(s): Paper link
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Wikipedia, critical social theory, and the possibility of rational discourse is a publication by Sean Hansen, Nicholas Berente, Kalle Lyytinen.


[edit] Abstract

Information systems researchers that apply critical social perspectives frequently emphasize the potential for information technology to serve as a mechanism for increased rationalization, domination, and control. Such theorists often overlook or discount the liberating aspects of information systems. In this study, we apply the ideal of rational discourse developed by Jurgen Habermas to the phenomenon of Wikipedia in an effort to explore empirically the emancipatory potential of information systems. We contend that Wikipedia embodies an approximation of the necessary conditions for rational discourse. While several challenges persist, the example of Wikipedia illustrates the positive potential of information systems in supporting the emergence of more emancipatory forms of communication. The corresponding implications for researchers and design professionals alike are discussed.

[edit] Research questions

"In this study, we apply the ideal of rational discourse developed by J¨urgen Habermas to the phenomenon of Wikipedia in an effort to explore empirically the emancipatory potential of information systems. We contend that Wikipedia embodies an approximation of the necessary conditions for rational discourse."

Research details

Topics: Deliberative collaboration [edit item]
Domains: Information systems [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Main topic [edit item]
Theories: "From the perspective of critical social theorists,1 information

systems are generally perceived as supporting the control and monitoring of human actors and consequently contributing to their oppression (Lyytinen &Klein, 1985). In his Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas (1976, 1984) describes discursive action through which progress toward emancipation from unwarranted societal control can occur. We refer to this form of action as “rational discourse.” Although a number of scholars have indicated that Habermas’s ideal of rational discourse is not practically attainable2 (Lyytinen & Klein, 1985; Lyytinen & Ngwenyama, 1999; Sharrock & Button, 1997; Wilson, 1997), we join Lyytinen and Hirschheim (1988) in emphasizing the emancipatory potential of information systems under certain conditions and as a counterfactual ideal that is frequently assumed in our daily communications. The term “critical social theory” is commonly used to describe a variety of theoretical perspectives which share a unifying thread—questioning the conventional wisdom of prevailing schools of thought and institutional practices with a primary focus on issues related to justice and power (Alvesson & Willmott, 1996; Kincheloe & McLaren, 2003). In developing the Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas’s (1976, 1984) primary concern was to understand under what conditions humans enjoy freedom “from unnecessary need deprivation and toil, ideological manipulation and other psychosocial compulsions, and liberation from fear” (Klein & Huynh, 2004, p. 167)." [edit item]

Research design: Statistical analysis [edit item]
Data source: Wikipedia pages [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: Longitudinal [edit item]
Unit of analysis: Article [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: Live Wikipedia [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: Article [edit item]
Wikipedia language: Not specified [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"In this essay, we argue that Wikipedia offers an example of an information system that supports the emancipatory objectives of critical social theory. Specifically, by approximating the conditions for a Habermasian rational discourse, Wikipedia represents a system of inquiry that overcomes much of the influence of relations of power and domination. While we acknowledge that the Wikipedian discourse is not quite ideal in meeting the requirements for discursive action, we believe that the consistencies with Habermasian theory are evident. In particular, the rational discourse of theWikipedia environment has benefited significantly from the combination of technical allowances of a wiki environment, the emergence of social norms within the project, and the temporal persistence of argumentation. We have drawn upon an analysis of three cases to illustrate the degree to which this form of rational discourse persists across cultural, social, scientific, and political areas of contention. Ultimately, the broader societal impact ofWikipedia and other emergent computing platforms remains to be seen and opportunities for further research abound, but the current analysis provides an illustration that information systems may yet play a positive role in countering systems of human oppression."

[edit] Comments


Further notes[edit]

Facts about "Wikipedia, critical social theory, and the possibility of rational discourse"RDF feed
AbstractInformation systems researchers that applyInformation systems researchers that apply critical social perspectives frequently emphasize the potential for information technology to serve as a mechanism for increased rationalization, domination, and control. Such theorists often overlook or discount the liberating aspects of information systems. In this study, we apply the ideal of rational discourse developed by Jurgen Habermas to the phenomenon of Wikipedia in an effort to explore empirically the emancipatory potential of information systems. We contend that Wikipedia embodies an approximation of the necessary conditions for rational discourse. While several challenges persist, the example of Wikipedia illustrates the positive potential of information systems in supporting the emergence of more emancipatory forms of communication. The corresponding implications for researchers and design professionals alike are discussed. design professionals alike are discussed.
Added by wikilit teamAdded on initial load +
Collected data time dimensionLongitudinal +
ConclusionIn this essay, we argue that Wikipedia offIn this essay, we argue that Wikipedia offers an example

of an information system that supports the emancipatory objectives of critical social theory. Specifically, by approximating the conditions for a Habermasian rational discourse, Wikipedia represents a system of inquiry that overcomes much of the influence of relations of power and domination. While we acknowledge that the Wikipedian discourse is not quite ideal in meeting the requirements for discursive action, we believe that the consistencies with Habermasian theory are evident. In particular, the rational discourse of theWikipedia environment has benefited significantly from the combination of technical allowances of a wiki environment, the emergence of social norms within the project, and the temporal persistence of argumentation. We have drawn upon an analysis of three cases to illustrate the degree to which this form of rational discourse persists across cultural, social, scientific, and political areas of contention. Ultimately, the broader societal impact ofWikipedia and other emergent computing platforms remains to be seen and opportunities for further research abound, but the current analysis provides an illustration that information systems may yet play a positive role in countering systems of human oppression.in

countering systems of human oppression.
Data sourceWikipedia pages +
Doi10.1080/01972240802587562 +
Google scholar urlhttp://scholar.google.com/scholar?ie=UTF-8&q=%22Wikipedia%2C%2Bcritical%2Bsocial%2Btheory%2C%2Band%2Bthe%2Bpossibility%2Bof%2Brational%2Bdiscourse%22 +
Has authorSean Hansen +, Nicholas Berente + and Kalle Lyytinen +
Has domainInformation systems +
Has topicDeliberative collaboration +
Pages254-72 +
Peer reviewedYes +
Publication typeJournal article +
Published inInformation Society +
Research designStatistical analysis +
Research questionsIn this

study, we apply the ideal of ratiIn this study, we apply the ideal of rational discourse developed by J¨urgen Habermas to the phenomenon of Wikipedia in an effort to explore empirically the emancipatory potential of information systems. We contend that Wikipedia embodies an approximation

of the necessary conditions for rational discourse.cessary conditions for rational discourse.
Revid11,073 +
TheoriesFrom the perspective of critical social thFrom the perspective of critical social theorists,1 information

systems are generally perceived as supporting the control and monitoring of human actors and consequently contributing to their oppression (Lyytinen &Klein, 1985). In his Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas (1976, 1984) describes discursive action through which progress toward emancipation from unwarranted societal control can occur. We refer to this form of action as “rational discourse.” Although a number of scholars have indicated that Habermas’s ideal of rational discourse is not practically attainable2 (Lyytinen & Klein, 1985; Lyytinen & Ngwenyama, 1999; Sharrock & Button, 1997; Wilson, 1997), we join Lyytinen and Hirschheim (1988) in emphasizing the emancipatory potential of information systems under certain conditions and as a counterfactual ideal that is frequently assumed in our daily communications. The term “critical social theory” is commonly used to describe a variety of theoretical perspectives which share a unifying thread—questioning the conventional wisdom of prevailing schools of thought and institutional practices with a primary focus on issues related to justice and power (Alvesson & Willmott, 1996; Kincheloe & McLaren, 2003). In developing the Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas’s (1976, 1984) primary concern was to understand under what conditions humans enjoy freedom “from unnecessary need deprivation and toil, ideological manipulation and other psychosocial compulsions, and liberation from fear” (Klein & Huynh, 2004, p. 167).

from fear” (Klein & Huynh, 2004, p. 167).
Theory typeAnalysis +
TitleWikipedia, critical social theory, and the possibility of rational discourse
Unit of analysisArticle +
Urlhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01972240802587562 +
Volume5 +
Wikipedia coverageMain topic +
Wikipedia data extractionLive Wikipedia +
Wikipedia languageNot specified +
Wikipedia page typeArticle +
Year2009 +