Wikipedia Assignment Provocation

In its “Orientation for New Instructors,” Wikipedia claims that it strives to present its articles from a “neutral point of view,” which is defined as “representing significant views fairly, proportionately and without bias.” From a pedagogical perspective, the guide adds that “Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy is a great way to cultivate critical reading and evaluation skills… Instructors often find it helpful to encourage students to analyze the choices they make about weight, reliability, and their own ideas of neutrality.”

By contrast, the Orientation for New Instructors discusses the “[Be] Bold, Revert, Discuss cycle” as “one good way to think about the consensus editing process.” Specifically, before reaching a consensus through negotiation, the Wikipedian is advised to be bold; specifically, “if you think you can make an article better, but you aren’t sure whether others will disagree with the changes you want to make, you should start by boldly editing as you think best.” Here I would like to briefly explore some effects of this (perhaps paradoxical, at the very least not self-obvious) claim to ‘neutral boldness’ in terms of the missions of Wikipedia to expand access to knowledge.

First, to what degree does the ethos of the “bold, revert, discuss cycle” mirror the tech startup development mantra of lean/agile development and ‘fail fast’? It reminds me of Sheryl Sandberg’s ideas in Lean In, cited by David Brooks in his article “The Practical University” (which outlines ‘soft skills’ such as “the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t”). What social and moral values does this process itself encode? As the Wikipedia training puts it, this seems like a permutation of the idea of talk and political action in the ancient Greek model of the democratic polis: citizens engage in debate, and in so doing ascend to a higher plane of personal and collective good by putting their personal needs to one side; as Ryan McGrady writes in the pamphlet on “Wikipedia and the Production of Knowledge,” “editors receive credit and recognition not for new scholarly ideas, but for their procedural expertise, discursive skills which propel collaboration, and their efforts working toward a common good.”

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Provocation on Christensen, The Innovative University

It seems like much of Christensen’s approach conforms to the category of what is called (specifically in business, tech, and Silicon Valley) ‘design thinking’. Bearing similarities with pedagogy as a practice that seeks to differentiate information from knowledge (including [assignment] scaffolding and outcome assessment), design thinking “is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result” (

I learned a great deal from Christensen’s piece. The text does important work not only on the level of exegesis and prescription, I would also say it has a certain performative pedagogical function. As a graduate student myself, the text works as a kind of ‘unveiling’ of structural forces that—as CUNY students—we are uniquely subjected to. Part of any field of practice is not only competence in discipline-specific knowledge, but also familiarization with the political economic (and discursive-metapragmatic) constraints within which that work is being done. While I’ve often heard appeals from faculty and fellow graduate students about the structural forces Christensen discusses, I benefited a great deal from his historical contextualization and ‘disruptive-innovative’ (not to say cyborgian) solutions. I say ‘performative’, then, because I at once recognized his call and was also emotionally and ethically engaged in the solutions he proposed, as well as the ethical model of the University he is advocating.

Any institution recognizes its goals, its challenges, and its possibilities for desirable transformation in terms of broader social notions of value that change along with social paradigms (in our time, primarily technologically-driven). While Christensen’s advice is quintessentially practical, I therefore wonder about the risks to the kinds of qualitative, unquantifiable ‘values’ that Christensen names as one of the University’s niche strengths. While Christensen paints with a broad brush, there is still a certain myopia here.

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Sleeping with the Enemy: Cunning and Control among Networked Bodies

One of the threads that I see uniting the texts is the notion of hyper-textuality (and its sensory properties of speed, simultaneity, anonymity, and seeming im-mediation) as repositioning subjects within desires for control and performance optimization, side-by-side with conflicting desires for community and transcendence. These texts seem to wrestle with different issues stemming from the idea that identities (subjectivities, selves, socialities) have become fundamentally compromised by the intensification of these contradictory human uses for digitality.

Haraway writes: “Human beings, like any other component or subsystem, must be localized in a system architecture whose basic modes of operation are probabilistic, statistical. …Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move—the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange” (‘Cyborg’ in Sex Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology, 446-447). This is a kind of ontology of control. These intensifications are not merely quantitative orders of magnitude but represent qualitative shifts in what it means to be human—engendering new pleasures and desires, while also (re)producing states of stigma, abjection, depletion. In any case, these digital systems clearly circulate far more than information; far more than ‘immaterial’, they are productive of a variety of processes of materialization, whether these be ‘queer’, ‘vanilla’, or otherwise.

There are so many ideas in Haraway’s text, which is part of the benefit and frustration of her aphoristic writing style. I found it interesting and productive how Hayles and Haraway show how their ideas of the ‘cyborg’ and the ‘posthuman’ emerge as feminist projects in contrast to ‘humanistic’ notions that enroll ideologies of possessive individualism and phallogocentrism. In turn, of course, this leads us to question other categories of normative subjectivity and experience including disability and able-bodiedness, faking and authenticity, manipulation and intimacy, play and work.

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