Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Thursday, 03/Nov/2022:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Izzy E Fox
Location: EQ-110

32 seat flexible

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Wikipedia's Enlightenment Problem: Decolonizing Western Epistemologies Through Critical Open Education Practices

Matthew A. Vetter1, Zachary J. McDowell2

1Indiana University of Pennsylvania, United States of America; 2University of Illinois at Chicago, United States of America

Although Wikipedia uniquely challenges the boundaries of the encyclopedic genre in terms of collaboration, technology, authority, and knowledge production, it remains an encyclopedia, an epistemological method and forum that carries with it the ideological traces and functions of Enlightenment print culture. Such print culture manifests itself most visibly in the policy of verifiability. Although verifiability ensures that editors support their claims with a reliable, published source, a concern emerges when we recognize that verifiability and reliability are typically only granted to written, published sources. Consequently, Wikipedia omits a tremendous amount of human knowledge, especially from cultures without a (privileged) history of print culture. Cultures and regions representing the global south, indigenous cultures and peoples, and other types of knowledge where an oral culture plays a large part in the transmission and curation of knowledge are simply not accounted for. Wikipedia’s vision (somewhat paradoxically) remains hindered by its adherence to colonialist epistemologies that continue to define the genre. This paper articulates Wikipedia’s colonialist epistemology problem by 1) reviewing the core content policies that prohibit alternative and indigenous sources of knowledge, especially verifiability and notability policies and 2) focusing on direct examples of the encyclopedia’s inability to represent indigenous knowledge. In linking contemporary Wikipedia policies to colonialist ideologies, we also trace the encyclopedia genre from its western predecessor, showcasing how Wikipedia continues this tradition via its own techno-optimistic rhetoric. Finally, we discuss failed attempts to address the issue of indigenous knowledge within Wikipedia, and make recommendations for its future.


Muira Nicollet McCammon

Annenberg School for Communication, United States of America

This research article examines the contestation and communication practices that arise when U.S. federal agencies tweet-and-delete. It proceeds in four parts. I begin by reviewing how government communication practices have thus been studied and make the case that deletion—or what I call “performed ephemerality”—is a specific institutionalized practice worthy of further scholarly scrutiny. Drawing on Giddens’ (1984) structuration theory and Goffman’s (1955) facework theory, I next turn my attention to the ways in which deleted tweets help unearth the administrative state’s theatrics and subsequent inability to control the flow of ephemerals it creates. By a close analysis of federal email exchanges between communication workers, gained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I then show how federal practices of “performed ephemerality” reveal internal contestation over how the state should speak and by extension, the rules, resources, and norms that give it voice. In this process, I argue that episodes of deletion draw attention to and make visible the communicative labor of the submerged state, whose public custodians of speech subsequently struggle to control the memory traces that accompany the spreadable media that they publish. This analysis demonstrates that ultimately trying to perform ephemerality does not cleanly deposit the state’s digital dirt into a clear-cut, tightly controlled memory hole but instead endows it with the potential and power to accelerate and spread far beyond Twitter.

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society. Polity.

Goffman, E. (1955). On Face-Work. Psychiatry, 18(3), 213–231.

Historical Technography of Online Commenting

Johannes Paßmann1, Lisa Gerzen1, Anne Helmond2, Robert Jansma3

1Ruhr University Bochum, Germany; 2University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; 3University of Siegen, Germany

The paper proposes ‘historical technography’ as a method to research past digital media practices combining Internet Archive data with qualitative interview data. In the context of the history of online commenting, it discusses interviews with former practitioners of commenting sections in news websites. This historical perspective on online comments critically contextualizes contemporary diagnoses on online commenting. 

We first demonstrate how archival research helps identify possible interviewees, and second, how chronologies of changes in commenting functions of blogs and news websites function as guides during interviews in order to help memorize past practices. As a result, this method copes with a central challenge of digital media history: Historical practices can, other than in the case of ethnography, not be observed in action. Historical technography, however, helps to reconstruct past practices by addressing points in time that might have functioned as a disruption: For example, when a commenting function of a news website has been deactivated, presenting what the website looked like before and after an update to our interviewees can make past practices easier memorable. 

We discuss historical technography in the context of similar approaches in the discourse of technography and methods like oral history, which also have an experience with using historical documents and artifacts in interviews. We demonstrate how this methodological advancement provides helpful insight into the media history of online comments and their shifts from a medium of welcomed participation to a place of problematized discourse.

Trying to re-meme-ber: The contradictory logics of memetic archiving

Asaf Nissenbaum1, Anat Ben-David2

1Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; 2The Open University of Israel

Internet memes are a central component of digital culture, constituting an arena for reflection on current events and everyday life. This, coupled with memes’ decentralized, bottom-up dynamic, raises the question of how memes are preserved and recorded. We address this issue by outlining an apparent tension between the logic of memetic creativity and culture, and the logic of archiving of digital content. The current study explores the meeting points of these logics, by investigating websites documenting memetic content.

Through systematic searches, we located 80 sites that collect and/or categorize internet memes. These were then qualitatively analyzed.

This resulted in typifying three essential types of meme collection websites, each positioned differently toward the underlying tension between memetic and archival logics. First, “organized databases” – created mostly by cultural establishments or organizations, these are highly detailed but do not incorporate memetic user-based dynamic. Second, “meme generators” – commercially operated applications used to create memes, that are lacking in explanations and details but offer user-based examples. Third, “wiki pages” – user created and operated, but mostly limited in scope and/or detail.

Together, these reveal how memetic knowledge is presented, outlining possibilities and limitations of archiving internet memes, with implications for user-generated content at large. The websites constitute inclusionary efforts in mostly-exclusionary meme culture, through systematic collection and elucidation of memes. However, there remains an underlying tension between archival and memetic logic, as only external, institutional actors offer wide conservation efforts, while grassroot, user-based operations are present-oriented and/or remain largely unfulfilled.

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