D. Representative Paper – Ambiguity and conflict in the Wikipedian knowledge production system

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Understanding how policymaking and knowledge is produced on Wikipedia is a fascinating topic, which I had the privilege of studying over the past several years in collaboration with Caius Dobrescu and with some of my graduate students. In a series of papers, presented at several conferences or published on this site, we proposed that one of the most important Wikipedia policies, the “neutral point of view “ (NPOV), is appropriated and interpreted in a subjective way by the participants in the Wikipedia project. By analyzing a set of constitutive documents for the Wikipedian universe, including discussion about NPOV (talk pages), we concluded that ambiguity is at the heart of the policy process on Wikipedia. The overarching conclusion is that ambiguity on Wikipedia is not extraneous, but a central ingredient of this wiki project’s policy making. Ambiguity naturally develops from the pluralist and non-hierarchic values of the culture that brought Wikipedia to life, and this conclusion requires that we reconsider the nature of “neutrality” practiced on Wikipedia.

A first paper that discussed this problem was “Ambiguity and conflict in the Wikipedian knowledge production system,” which in an early version was presented at the International Communication Association Annual Conference in May 2006, in Dresden. In 2009-2010, in collaboration with Caius Dobrescu I conducted more research and we published what is to be considered the final product of our labor:

Matei, S. A., & Dobrescu, C. (2011). Wikipedia’s “Neutral Point of View:”Settling conflict through ambiguity. The Information Society, 27, 1-12. doi:10.1080/01972243.2011.534368

The older version of the paper, which has been cited by a number of colleagues (see below for links), can be provided upon request, but we would prefer you to use the latest version, linked above. In case your library cannot not provide a copy of the paper, please do not hesitate to contact us. Use the comment box at the bottom of the page to do so…

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7 thoughts on “D. Representative Paper – Ambiguity and conflict in the Wikipedian knowledge production system

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  • November 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

    This discussion on NPOV is fun, and I love when you note in the conclusion, ” As two participant-observers remarked, NPOV is frequently used as a justification for personal biases and for defending the turf staked out by central Wikipedian players (administrators and system operators; see Scott 2005; Peters 2006)”.
    This type of behavior reminded me of the interpersonal dynamics of conversational bullies who use the phrase, “Hey, I’m just telling it like it is…” in order to justify their obvious personal bias. =)
    I have to say that the competing and clashing paradigms of objective and subjective realities discussed here hurts my brain a little bit. On the one hand, we want an objective (and neutral) compendium of reality (which reflects a positivist catalog of the world), but on the other hand, this catalog can only be written by harnessing a vast array of subjective and dynamic (and ambiguous) assessments. In the end, I see Wikipedia as sort of exemplifying Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: we can pause and see the objective compendium OR we can step back and see how it’s constantly changing, but we can’t view these realities at the same time. Fun.
    Thanks for the diversion this morning… =)

    • November 7, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Precisely my point: Wikipedia is a post-modern, relativization machine, that somehow works…


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