Duration: 2014-03 – 2016-02
This is an individual research project.
An applied research aiming at highlighting the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia with a focus on contemporary African art.
Wikipedia is an open encyclopedia with over 400 million readers, 30 million articles and 280 linguistic editions. It is our contemporary online main source of information, but studies have already collected evidence of its cultural and geographic imbalance. Focusing on contemporary African art allows to observe dynamics related to the cultural history of Africa after independence which is particularly underrepresented, and to contemporary production which is not under public domain and it addresses specific issues of notability of living people. Furthermore studies on contemporary African art have pointed out for decades the necessity of enhancing the production and dissemination of content about African post-colonial cultural history. Open content and Wikipedia could represent in this field an important opportunity to foster its knowledge; and Wikipedia would benefit from this content by providing more diverse and geographically balanced articles.
The research is centered around the main question "How can we counteract the dynamics of exclusion of contemporary African art in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia?". The main hypothesis is that the relationship between open content and Wikipedia is the key to counteract dynamics of exclusion; the indirect contribution of people and institutions in providing open content related to contemporary African art can enhance the quantity and quality of content on Wikipedia; at the same time the possibility of making content accessible on Wikipedia provides a strong motivation to make content open. The qualitative analysis is developed through field research and interviews on Wikipedia, in Dakar, Douala, Paris and during specialized conferences. The applied nature of the research focuses on three case studies (the Dakar Biennale of contemporary African art, the cultural organization doual'art, and the journal and online database Africultures): it observes them, it engages individuals and institutions with questions and meetings, and it tests systems which can further bridge open content and Wikipedia.
The research aims at analysing dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia with a focus on contemporary African art.
The research is centred around on a main question: How can we counteract the dynamics of exclusion of contemporary African art in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia? This questions allows the research to highlight in general dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia. To answer this general question, the research addresses more specific questions:
- why is contemporary African art so underrepresented on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects?
- who are the current key players in enhancing African related systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia? which are their motivations and needs and which is the impact of their work?
- which is the relationship between the key players in the production and dissemination of knowledge based on open content and Wikipedia (Hemetsberger & Reinhardt 2009) and the key players focusing on Africa? How can the links among them be established or fostered?
The research relies on the fact that African content is underrepresented on Wikipedia, and that open content is still underused by institutions in Africa and related to Africa (Graham 2011); open content and Wikipedia can be an opportunity to foster the production and dissemination of contemporary African art, with beneficial effects both for its produces and for a wide audience, as it has been pointed out for scholars and museums (Tunsch 2007). The main hypothesis is that the relationship between open content and Wikipedia is the key to counteract the dynamics of exclusion of contemporary African art in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia. The indirect contribution of people and institutions in providing open content related to contemporary African art enhances the quantity and quality of content on Wikipedia; at the same time the possibility of making content accessible on Wikipedia provides a strong motivation to make content open. This main hypothesis is based on other hypothesis:
- A major reason of exclusion on Wikipedia is related sources. Even when primary and secondary sources are available, they need to be acknowledged as relevant sources by the Wikipedia community. This situation presents specific challenges related to notability (Ford 2011) and it is specifically complex when related to contemporary cultural production (i.e. intellectual property, notability of living people) and to Africa (i.e. existence of sources, access to sources online and notability of the sources). Providing sources to Wikimedia editors and documenting sources on Wikipedia (publications, books, scholars) fosters dynamics of inclusion and contribute to assess notability.
- The approach in promoting diversity implemented by the open content and Wikimedia communities is nationalist (Pensa 2012a). Projects and initiatives focus on nations and “local languages” and they are based on an idea of community and participation which can not be systematically replicated in African countries. Readers are not considered a central target; the focus is posit on “active contributors”. There is a gap between the current projects and initiatives and the needs and requests of people and institutions living in Africa or interested in African-related topics. Institutions and people providing open content are not considered “contributors”.
- The current representations of content and users on Wikipedia and on the Wikimedia projects and on the use of open content is a partial representation. Even if content, users and the use of open content in Africa increase, this would not appear in the current representations. Institutions and people providing open content are not represented.
- Open content and Wikipedia are related issues but there is a very limited coordinated work among people and institutions promoting them.
- Stakeholders in the field of contemporary African art are not represented on Wikipedia not even in short articles (stubs). For this reason people and institutions focussed on contemporary African art do not feel connected to Wikipedia; if content related to them would increase also their engagement would increase.
This applied research uses field research, participative observation, qualitative interviews and case studies to verify and test its hypothesis. The focus is on the key stakeholders, and the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion are observed by looking at individual contributions (people individually contributing to Wikipedia by producing new open content), in contributions related to active institutions (institutions which provide open content and are actively engaged in collaborative online projects) and in contributions related to passive institutions (institutions which only provide open content). The field research is implemented on Wikipedia, in Dakar, Douala and Paris and during conferences. On Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects content and discussions related to contemporary African art will be observed and analysed; the research methodology will be developed in accordance with the Wikimedia Foundation research guidelines for research on humans. Three case studies will allow to observe open content and Wikipedia from outside and inside the online community and to test hypothesis. Case study 1. Dak’Art – the Dakar Biennale of contemporary African art – is a recurrent art event and cultural institution specialised in promoting contemporary African art at a panafrican and international level (Pensa 2003, Pizzoccaro 2005, Konaté 2007 and 2009, Mauchan 2009, Pensa 2011, Moss 2013). As a biennale since 1992 it has presented over 500 artists and it is connected to cultural policies and dynamics in Senegal (Snipe 1998, Grabski 2001 and 2009, Katchcka 2001; Harney 2004). It is an interconnected territory (Sassen 1997), the major meeting point for visual arts in Africa and its selection has weaved the involvement of international partners and it has generated new exhibitions, publications and projects; as a global and. The Dakar Biennale represents in this research the frame of contemporary African art. Case study 2. doual’art is a cultural institution based in Douala, Cameroon. It has started using open content and contributing to the Wikimedia projects in 2007. The experience of doual’art allows to collect evidences of the experience and impact of open content and Wikipedia on a contemporary African art institutions. Its experience can allow to understand dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, positive and negative experiences and possible strategies to overcome the obstacles. Case study 3. Africultures is a journal, website and database focussed on contemporary African culture. Its database counts around 70’000 content mainly in French and it is under an open license since 2012. The case study of Africultures allows to acknowledge the interest of institutions to disseminate contemporary African art and to support its production, and to understand the potential synergies with open content and Wikipedia and dynamics of inclusions and exclusions they already face. Qualitative interviews will be conducted during the field research and at conferences with active community members, Wikipedia readers, stakeholders (members of Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimedia chapters, Creative Commons, activists of open and collaborative knowledge in Africa or related to Africa, manager of institutions releasing and not releasing open content, contemporary African artists with or without articles on Wikipedia) and scholars in the field of open online communities, Wikipedia and African studies. Findings released under Creative Commons attributions share alike license will be discussed during conferences.
The project is expected to produce three peer-review publications for scientific journals and two publications for conference proceedings. The possible topics of the foreseen publications are:
- Dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia. The case of contemporary African art (poster and paper);
- African knowledge on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects;
- Open content and Wikipedia as tool to foster the dissemination of African knowledge
- The Dakar Biennale, doual’art and Africultures on Wikipedia
- Increasing the quality and quantity of African content on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects.
The possible scientific journals I will submit articles are “The Journal of Peer Production”, "First Monday", “African Arts” (no open access), “Third Text Africa”, Critical interventions (no open access), JAR Journal for artistic research, “Politique africaine”.
In 2014 and 2015 I will apply for a selection of major conferences specialized on
- open and collaborative knowledge and Wikipedia studies (the peer-reviewed conferences Wikipedia Academy and WikiSym, and the main international Wikipedia gathering Wikimania),
- African studies (Triennial symposium on African art organised by ACASA Art council of the African Studies Assocation and ECAS European Conference on African Studies
- cultural policies (ICCPR International Conference on Cultural Policy Research).
Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects
All the documentation produced is under Creative Commons attribution share-alike license all.
Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection
 Triennial symposium on African art organized by Art council of the African Studies Association, New York, 19-22 March 2014.  WikiSym, 2014 and 2015.  Wikimania, London, August 2014 and 2015.  International Conference on Cultural Policy Research (ICCPR), Hildesheim, Germany, 9-12 September 2014 + Berlin 12-13 September 2014.  Wikipedia Academy 2014 and 2015.  European Conference on African Studies, 2015.
[a] Research poster: Dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia. The case of contemporary African art. [b] Conference proposal and paper submitted after the preliminary discussion at the conference. African knowledge on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects. [c] Conference proposal and paper submitted after the preliminary discussion at the conference. Open content and Wikipedia as tool to foster the dissemination of African knowledge. [d] Final research paper. Dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in systems of knowledge production and dissemination based on open content and Wikipedia. The case of contemporary African art.
Fundings have been requested to the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) - pending.
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Iolanda Pensa, io (at) pensa (dot) it.