The Tyranny of The Wikipedians

 

Transparency: I am a white, CIS academic, who currently holds a contract from Wilfred Laurier Press to edit a print and digital edition of Mourning Dove’s western, Cogewea (1927) using Indigenous editing practices and protocols. In keeping with being a white person working with Indigenous texts, I am and will collaborate with Indigenous scholars and community members. If I am asked not to work with a particular text, document or object, I won’t. It’s neither mine nor part of my culture.

I am having a hard time with a Wikipedian, who goes by the name of Cordless Larry. This Wikipedian takes their job very seriously, and their job is very much akin to the role of a peer reviewer. Peer review has been taking a beating lately and for good reason, implicit bias is one problem, but the other is the anonymous nature of peer review. A reviewer like Cordless Larry is given a model for knowledge dissemination (which seems like an invitation to be a guardian or gatekeeper), and then they defend that model. The Wikipedia model claims to be a repository for all of “human knowledge,” but is it? My experience shows that the rules are western oriented at best and at worst, Eurocentric.

Let’s get back to Larry. If you go to my Talk page on Wikipedia (I’m not a regular, exactly because of Wikipedians like Cordless Larry), you’ll see the argument in full. Check this out: I was refuting the claim that Indigenous peoples  have “vanished,” otherwise known as the “Vanishing Indian Myth.” Larry gets to claim that stating the Okanagan Nation Alliance and Colville Confederated Tribes are thriving is “original research.” I removed the word “thriving,” because I thought Larry might be (correctly) thinking that it was too evaluative. Not good enough and the  statement was called “original research.” They didn’t ask for a reference. “Original research” according to Wikipedia are claims that cannot be verified by reputable and reliable sources. I could have easily done this, but by saying that this statement is “original research,” Larry is virtually erasing Indigenous identity.

I am not saying that their suggestions about tone were not correct and other small edits – indeed, Larry clearly knows what they are doing at the level of language. My issue is with the inability to see other kinds of evidence as vital to bringing balance to Wikipedia’s clear bias. The majority of Wikipedia’s editors are white, male, and have a post-secondary eduction, and these are the editors who get to tell the stories of marginalized others often excluded from privileged forms of knowledge (I hear the irony calling: I am a person of privileged editing an Indigenous text). The assumption of privilege is pretty damn clear when Larry is able to lower the rating and quality of the article by flagging it as containing “original research” and not enough reliable references.

Yep, that’s right Larry is a prominent Wikipedian who has rated the page as not having enough references. If you visit the page, you’ll see that each and every statement beyond plot summary has one or more peer reviewed references. If I dare add anything to the article that is outside Larry’s boundaries, he swoops in and ensures that any and all evidence meets a criteria not of “all human knowledge” but of the knowledge that Larry deems is useful. But “rules!,” you might say, “we need rules to keep things in order!” This claim is true, but what if the playing field is not level?

For years, Mourning Dove’s authorship or her own book was questioned, and by Wikipedia’s standards, this information is accepted knowledge, even though it was patently wrong. Mourning Dove’s Cogewea is a book that has been misunderstand and misrepresented, because the author is an Indigenous woman. Therefore, an article written from an Indigenized perspective is another form of knowledge production that privileges certain ways of knowing outside of Larry’s sphere. But his sphere is the centre from which all other knowledges must genuflect.

If I sound somewhat bitter, it’s been a long couple of weeks trying to fight against an editor determined to undermine rather than uplift. There is no negotiation or debate. What Larry says goes. Look! He has over 35 000 edits! And for this work, which I am sure is excellent within his sphere of understanding, he is given power. The way to level up in the game of Wikipedia is to edit, edit, and edit some more.  But it’s not to seemingly mentor or support. It’s a militaristic enterprise with a strict hierarchy – not really conducive to the governance by consensus that plays a major role in Indigenous philosophy. Wikipedia needs to state openly that it is NOT a repository of human knowledge but western ideals of knowledge production. Sure, it’s community edited, but that community seems awfully limited to a certain type of person.

Finally, Cordless Larry really did not like my inclusion of Indigenous editing practices in the Cogewea article. I want to share the section he removed with you. This is not original research, but an attempt to show the interconnectedness of knowledge production, which is part and parcel of Indigenizing. However, Larry did not see the connection and removed this section without asking why it’s there or inviting debate:

Indigenous editing

Editing as a western cultural, economic, and epistemological practice is grounded in systemic discrimination and colonization [12] This fact has led to a long-standing movement to have Indigneous texts, like Mourning Dove’s Cogewea edited using Indigenous protocols and practices. More examples of such systemic discrimination include the resignation of Write magazine’s editor Hal Niedzviecki (Write magazine is the quarterly publication of the Writers’ Union of Canada). Niedzviecki edited the manuscripts of several Indigenous authors as part of a special issue of Write; subsequently, in his introduction, he argued that there is no such thing as cultural appropriation: it’s a writer’s prerogative to represent and articulate the voice of any culture or people. Subsequently, a number of prominent journalists, including Jonathan McKay, former editor of The Walrus and Steve Ladurantaye, formerly managing editor of CBC’s The National (TV program), publicly denounced Niedzviecki’s firing, questioning those who opposed Niedzviecki’s point of view, which included many of the authors whose work he edited.[13]

The Niedzviecki scandal is not an isolated case. Indigenous authors are often framed by colonial discourse, which has necessitated a general call for an Indigenous approach to editing Indigenous texts.[14] [15]

 

If Wikipedia is about sharing information and educating readers, then this information, which is not original research, should have been left in. True, this information is not fall neatly in Cogewea’s chronological history, but it is linked to Cogewea as a novel that suffered from Western editing practices. If there is an irony here, it’s that Mourning Dove’s novel was embroiled in yet another battle with a controlling editor. I would have appreciated suggestions to improve this section rather than Larry telling me this has nothing to do with Cogewea as a novel. I would have appreciated an actual discussion rather than demands, notifications, and punishments.

 

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Gaming the Edition

Twine is a digital storytelling tool that most people have heard of or maybe even used? I actually think that Twine’s capabilities have yet to be fathomed outside of building compelling games like Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. Twine has the capacity to be a great remediation tool, transforming print books into text-based games. But why in the world would anyone do such a thing?

Lots of reasons, but certainly no reasoning that assumes “print is dead.” In fact, following Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s lead, discourses of obsolescence and decline have more to do with shoring up cultural hierarchies than any actual “end of days” for a particular medium (2). That is, this project is not about proving that print is dying, but much more to do with supplementing and even correcting some of the limitations of print. This kind of work can be tough when print texts have been romanticized to the point where most readers do not recognize that a book is really nothing more than a portable data container (with a whole lot of cultural baggage). books are heavy, man.

A book is a tool – a form of media technology designed to contain text in a particular way, after all, “texts are linguistic and as such do not have a fixed physical form,” meaning that texts can expressed across many different kinds of media (Kelemen 29). Yep, text is transformable, but when working with digital mediums, things get sticky. Digital mediums fundamentally change how text is managed, stored, read, and even understood, which makes the work of the editor even more important.

As every editor knows, the actual history of the book is vital to understand how to deal with a book in an ethical manner. An editor I greatly admire, Zailig Pollock, makes this point pretty damn clear in his essay “The Material and Cultural Transformation of Scholarly Editing in Canada” that when we are editing texts (particularly scholarly forms of editing) we are grappling with forces of authority, legitimacy, and power. No one understands these forces better than Indigenous authors and editors who have had to engage (grapple?) with western-style militaristic practices of editorial control and power, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much:

[w]hen Indigenous authors in Canada submit their work to a publisher it is always in the context of a colonial history built on exclusion, segregation, abuses of authority, domination, and official policies of assimilation meant to destroy Aboriginal languages and cultures, remove Aboriginal peoples and their lands, disrupt family relationships, and eliminate the special legal status of any remaining “Indian” peoples (Akiwenzie Damm 30)

This is what I mean when I say BOOKS ARE HEAVY – they carry the weight of their own contents and all the history that came with it. For a great many Indigenous writers, this weight includes the structural racism of academic publishing and editing. My question is this: is the book itself as a technology also a medium designed to oppress? If the paratext, which is meant to complement the contents, operates to neutralize (or neuter) the author’s cultural voice, ethos, and position, then the scholarly edition exerts colonial control.

For this reason, we are building (I use the pronoun “we” because this project has received loads of help) a scholarly social knowledge edition of Mourning Dove’s Cogewea. This  edition incorporates Indigenous editing practice and digital gaming paradigms to create an interactive text that actively engages the reader. We are following groundbreaking work by Sonja Sapach, Jon Saklofske and the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Modelling and Prototyping Team who created a “Gaming the Edition” text model to challenge the private practice of scholarly editing. Through this project, they ask questions about how to create a rigorous open access model that is somewhat akin to the Wikipedia model of editing, but once a reader edits the text, they “level up” and continue on their reading and editing journey.  

While the digital Cogewea edition will not engage open access editing in this form, gaming an edition can create spaces of learning, participation, and interconnectivity in previously restricted print text editions where only those with exclusive knowledge could access and understand the form and content. Digital paradigms offer a means to realize active, energized textual engagement between reader and text, overlapping and blending Indigenous orature, community, and kinetic vitality in a digital textual space. In other words, it’s a good idea to at least test out new forms that can offer a more respectful way to share Indigenous stories with a wide audience. Twine is the testing ground, but it’s not like we are the first! There have been interventions into colonial editing and publishing practices ( The People and the Text and Theytus Books comes to mind). 

The director of Diversity and Inclusion for Riot Games, Soha Kareem, describes Twine as a tool for reimagining and redefining modes of storytelling; it can help to give voice to lesser-heard voices. The digital scholarly edition of Cogewea will follow a tradition of interactive fiction to engage the user not simply through reading, but teaching the user how to read in order to proceed (Montfort 3). This aspect of interactive fiction is crucial to our project. As Deanna Reder and Linda Morra make clear, it is not uncommon for postsecondary students, staff, and teachers to lack knowledge of Indigenous histories and knowledge. Interactive fiction, therefore, offers users or “interactors,” to borrow Janet Murray’s term for readers of interactive fiction (or text-based games) new ways to engage with the text. Nick Montford explains that interactive fiction teaches “by offering a new way of seeing” (4). Our goal is to use interactive fiction to create an Indigenized way to read a scholarly edition of an Indigenous text.

Now to finish the game (check out the Beta. The link is a pinned Tweet on my Twitter profile @smhumphreys)

What I cited….

Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri. “‘We think differently. We have a different understanding.”: Editing Indigenous Texts as an Indigenous Editor.” Editing as a Cultural Practice in Canada. Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli, ed. Waterloo: WLU Press, 2016. 29-40.

Kelemen, Erick. Textual Editing and Criticism. W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005. Print.

Pollock, Zailig. “The Material and Cultural Transformation of Scholarly Editing in Canada.” Editing as a Cultural Practice in Canada. Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli, ed. Waterloo: WLU Press, 2016. 93-104.

Tending tenderness and disrupting the myth of academic rock stars

Can we imagine academia without rockstars? Extreme individualism? I’d like to think so. Read this for more.

Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

IMG_3870

In euro-american academia, the arts, media, politics, and literature we are enthralled, obsessed with two things: ‘innovation’ and individuality. The triumph of individual will to manifest something new new new trumps everything else. Granting agencies often focus on a single Principle Investigator to the exclusion of whole teams of human and more-than-human beings who make certain projects or ideas possible. News reporters want to find the new voice, the emerging voice, the singular representative of a community to demonstrate the raw will of a single body, mind, and spirit. They want us to believe that these achievements are not the product of the blood, sweat, and labour of myriad co-convenors, co-thinkers, collaborators, and co-dreamers who lift each other up in often dreary, cold, and impossible (impassible) academic systems and structures. They want us to believe that there is no village of academic aunties (as per Erica Violet Lee’s brilliant…

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We Are All Bunnies

Indeed, I have been a bunny who was drowned by a former institution. Protect your rights.

Tales Told Out of School

I’m sitting at my desk today watching the reactions and commentary about the situation at Mount St. Mary pour in via Twitter and Facebook.  In case you haven’t read about it yet: here’s the latest.  Those of us who recognize the value of tenure, still believe there is a place for respectful disagreement in higher ed, and want better things for our own students and institutions are a bit speechless (which would be a wise strategy if you were at Mount St. Mary).  Horrified and shocked and saddened seem the most common emotions.

I’m guessing that this drama isn’t over yet.  I expect lawsuits, alumni protest (at least the president can’t fire them), and hopefully, some response from the college’s Board of Trustees.  But in the meantime I think we faculty and administrators at other institutions need to do three things.

The first is to engage in some self-education. …

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Ok, let’s talk: A response to the Bell Let’s Talk campaign

Vision Passion Action

This post was written by Danielle Landry. She teaches Mad People’s History as part-time instructor with the School of Disability Studies.

A drawing of a road side stand with the words "psychiatric help 5 cents" on top. Inside the stand there is a person with a blue text box. The bottom of the stand reads "The corporation is in"Ok, let’s talk.

Let’s talk about how those two new workplace scenario commercials only reinforce the idea that it’s unsafe to talk about mental health to your boss or co-workers, instead of establishing that employers in Ontario actually have a duty to accommodate disabled workers, including those with psychiatric disabilities.

Let’s stop positioning disabled people as charity cases through a-nickel-for-every-text campaigns.

Let’s talk about the erosion of our social systems through corporate greed.

Let’s ask why Bell hasn’t instituted any programs to support its low-income customers, such as if they need a reprieve from paying their bills during a hospital stay.

Let’s talk about why it’s not okay that we have to rely on corporate sponsorship to sustain our mental health system. Let’s ask if corporate influence serves to…

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Billboard knows best

An insightful “both/and” reading of Dove’s ad campaign.

Be beautiful...or else

Dove’s campaign calls women to action: choose beauty. Do it, just do it! Their campaign seems to claim that if you choose their products, boom: you’ve gone and chosen beauty. Images of women all over Dove’s Tumblr  depicts them choosing between doors labelled “average” or “beautiful”. The firming lotion in the billboard below becomes a confidence-in-a-bottle product, rather than  just another drugstore product. The general idea behind the Real Beauty campaign may well be a good one, but tying it together with a company and their brand in this way leads less to women feeling good about themselves in general, and more to them feeling good about that last purchase they made. This billboard shows how Dove is drawing the female gaze rather than the male, and then using that to sell happiness.

In his work, Écrits: A Selection, Jacques Lacan redefines the classic Descartes quote from “I think therefore I am,”…

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Knowledge, Science, and Silence

A great example of indigenist criticism.

Truth, Reconciliation, and Post-Structuralism

As Waziyatawin Angela Wilson explains in American Indian Quarterly, “the process of colonization required the complete subjugation of [indigenous people’s] minds and spirits so that [their] lands and resources could be robbed from underneath [their] bodies” (Wilson 360). One of the most powerful tools that can be used by a colonizer, and that was used by the Canadian government in the Residential Schools program, is the complete devaluation of a group of people’s knowledge and language. This second part is especially effective in terms of many indigenous cultures, as their oral tradition demands the preservation of their language for the survival of their culture. The National Post articles, like the Residential Schools, are relays of this discourse surrounding knowledge that presents indigenous contributions as inferior and outdated.

Perhaps the best example of this comes from Robson’s article. In it, Robson argues against the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation that calls for…

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research, teaching, and a little angst