On Wednesday, I went to nearby Maastricht for the workshop Participatory knowledge production 2.0: Critical views and experiences together with my colleagues Isa Peters and Katrin Weller. The workshop, hosted by the Virtual Knowledge Studio Maastricht, was a single-day, round table-style event that attracted participants from a variety of disciplines (e.g. STS, sociology, literature, [social] geography). Short papers contributed by a group of participants were discussed in depth, first by a so-called respondent (a colleague who presents the central points made in the paper and then critiques it) and then by the entire group. I discussed a paper by René König titled Wikipedia: participatory knowledge production or elite knowledge representation? which made some very relevant points on the conservative nature of Wikipedia as a natural result of it’s participatory model. Other topics included e-healthcare portals, WikiLeaks, open art criticism, theorycrafting in games, online fandoms and participatory GIS (see the program for details).
The lack of multiple conference tracks, Powerpoint and other distractions (there was no open wifi) meant that participants focused closely on the discussion at hand and really engaged with one another. It’s a great event format for intense thought and debate and I’d love to use it in the future — ideally at a remote location where people can’t escape.
I can’t really give a concise summary of everything that was discussed, but the program and the Twitterstream will give you an impression of the dominant themes.
VKS Maastricht’s Sally Wyatt, the workshop chair, summarized the common direction of the four sessions as follows (my notes):
- How inclusive is digital technology really? This was a recurring theme: beyond narratives of the Internet as a liberating force, how open are digital environments (from mapping systems and health portals to Wikipedia and the Google Art Project?
- What is the relationship of software and hardware to systems of power and control? What kind of ideology is inherent in computation?
- Participation as a form of surveillance, co-creation as a form of exploitation.
- Theory, methods and approaches to studying these and related issues.
What made the workshop very productive and stimulating to me was the healthy mix of critical perspective and empirical research. We didn’t just debate digital technology in an abstract fashion (which is sometimes a danger with very bookish scholars who don’t actually use a given technology, but feel free to interpret it before the background of their favorite theory) and we also refrained from assembling statistics or anecdotes without relation to a bigger picture.
I greatly enjoyed meeting everyone at VKS and the other participants and look forward both to a publication that might follow and to future VKS events relating to digital themes.