Pedagogy, Organizing and Wiki

What Does It Mean To Think In Wiki?

100 words
This half-day workshop will examine using Wiki in classrooms, to organize communities, and to help us think through practical problems. The discussion will be based on a set of theoretical questions about the medium of Wiki itself. Our guiding question is, what does it mean to think in Wiki? We intend to evoke participants to think about Wiki as a new (or perhaps not-so-new) language and more importantly a practice that encourages people to develop specific ways of thinking about content and even truth. This would include aspects of inquiry, thought, community and education. We contend that Wiki is a technological form that can contribute to shifts in how people understand themselves, how they understand knowledge, their social identities, and their relationships to structures of power. With this, we believe Wiki is a useful application in the realms of pedagogy and organizing.


The process of working with Wiki develops critical thinking skills that are valuable in teaching and community organizing. By examining how people use Wiki, we will understand how it relates to pedagogical exploration and organizing methodology. In addition, we will also discus the epistemological questions surrounding wiki.
People interact with Wiki in ways that differ from nearly all other media. When we interact with conventional media (e.g. books, newspapers, songs, films or TV shows) and some newer media (e.g. weblogs), we do so after their publication. Any suggestions or criticisms we make have no effect on the already finished entity. In contrast, Wiki is always in production, always in process. This offers people the opportunity to make their ideas a part of the Wiki. Because of that, people have a more conscious and active engagement with Wiki than any other media. Understanding Wiki, we always decide whether or not we will make a change. More often than not, the decision is not to make changes and this becomes a conscious decision that develops. This has a positive correlation for teaching and organizing. In teaching, students can see the creation of knowledge over time and how it requires constant revision and negotiation. Wiki also demonstrates this possibility of change, a key sensibility in successful organizing. In both teaching and organizing contexts, Wiki also shows the power of collective effort.
The collective nature of producing knowledge in Wiki also has parallels with the epistemology of Friedrich Nietzsche. He argued that what we call truth results from the social enterprise of making meaning in the world. Communities agree, mostly unconsciously, on pieces of knowledge. Wiki can and does function in a similar way. A given Wiki community collectively defines “the truth” on a given object of inquiry in much the same way that Nietzsche argues that we make truth socially. Wiki, however, takes this one step farther by making the process explicit and conscious. In a Wiki, though, no piece of knowledge remains final because people can always make edits. In addition, the contingent nature of knowledge in Wiki has parallels in the epistemology of John Dewey. He argues that we never reach an endpoint with knowledge because all of it is subject to more inquiry that might produce different results. Wiki, then, functions in ways similar to the radical epistemologies of both Dewey and Nietzsche.
However, this approach (whether through Dewey, Nietzsche or Wiki) makes all knowledge contingent, subject to further inquiry. Students often resist this contingent version of knowledge because it contradicts widely and deeply held beliefs about the absolute nature of some truths. For similar reasons, in community organizing, some people resist a contingent approach to knowledge because it dislodges the sense of working for the “right” cause. How can Wiki provide students and activists in social movements to understand the value of contingency? How can a Wiki ethos create democratic communities of inquiry that transform passive students into active citizens? How can we use Wiki to motivate citizens to take part in collective action and produce positive social change?


Mark Dilley:

Wiki walker since January 2002. Communities include MeatballWiki, CommunityWiki and co-founded WikiIndex - which was based on several years of my work on SwitchWiki. I helped build the TourBus System and am the driver for the Eclectic Wiki Tour. My WikiSym experience is with the WikiVanning folks in 2005 and in Denmark last year. I have attended and helped organize, in a small way, both RecentChangeCamps in Portland, OR and am scheduled to be in Montreal, Canada for RoCoCo. I attended Wikimania last year in Boston, MA and hope to attend Wikimania in Taiwan. My interest is in self-organization stems from union organizing and social justice work. Currently I am employed at

Karen Miller:

Associate professor of history and urban studies at LaGuardia Community College, one of the City University of New York (CUNY) schools in Queens. I write about race and politics in Detroit in the 1920s and 1930s. I'm especially interested in the seemingly counter-intuitive relationship between the growth of liberalism over this period, and the sustenance of racial discrimination and stratification within Northern cities. I teach history, writing, urban studies, and women's studies classes. I like to use technology in the classroom, although I am averse to its overuse.

Robert Vodicka:

Ph. D. student in American Studies at the University of Kansas (KU). Dissertation on the beginnings of Actors’ Equity Association. M. A. thesis on Black Flag and the Los Angeles Police Department. Served as chair of negotiations committee for the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition at KU. Organized Graduate employees at four other universities in the US besides KU. Worked for four and a half years as label manager of New Alliance Records. Has producer credit on recordings by the band, Nothing Painted Blue.

Workshop Facilitators: Mark Dilley, Karen Miller, Robert Vodicka

Robert's thoughts

Connection between epistemology of wiki and the epistemologies of Nietzsche and Dewey:

Nietzsche argues that what we call truth results from the social enterprise of making meaning in the world. I suggest that wikis can and do function in a similar way. A given wiki community defines “the truth” on a given object of inquiry. This community often redefines this “truth.” Here is where Dewey comes in. Through his “radical empiricism” (though I have renamed it “relentless empiricism"), he holds that we can never reach an endpoint on an object of inquiry. It is always subject to more inquiry[nice point! k] the same way knowledge on wikis can and is always subject to further revision. For Dewey, this means that we never arrive at a final “truth.” In Nietzsche’s case, he thinks that we confuse the social process of “truth-making” with an objectively confirmable truth, something he thinks humans cannot access. From different directions, these thinkers arrive at contingent epistemologies, something I would suggest is fairly radical in the West in terms of how most people process information in their lives. So, while wikis, in my view, exhibit characteristics that resemble things described (anticipated?) by Dewey and Nietzsche, are those communities ready to embrace these contingent notions of truth? When I teach Nietzsche, most undergraduates resist this conception of truth, I think because it feels so uncertain (and Nietzsche argued that it was uncertain). So, if we want to encourage this kind of thinking, how do we teach it? [Robert, this is GREAT stuff!! -k]

Dewey’s idea of knowledge being continually subject to further inquiry connects to organizing. As I have learned organizing, to be successful, we have to set goals and evaluate them continuously (there are also organizing studies that support this). What we think we know about a given organizing project always remains subject to what we learn from those ongoing evaluations. Further, in Dewey’s view, action produces knowledge. Every time we take action, we produce new knowledge that we must evaluate. The new knowledge and evaluation feed into the next action we take which, in turn, produces more new knowledge (there is a parallel here to Robn Kelley’s argument about social movements producing knowledge and theory). Again, though, no final knowledge is ever produced in this process. Are organizers willing to embrace the idea that we organize for a cause not because it is right in some transcendent sense but because given our evaluation at a given moment, organizing seems like the best action to take? Most organizers I know have a difficult time with this, sometimes personally, sometimes because they don’t think they can organize other people with this contingent foundation and sometimes a combination of both. So, how do we train organizers?

Interesting points here, although I would take it in a different direction--it seems that one of the tricks of organizing, like teaching, is to convince people to believe that truth is situated and socially produced--so that they can more easily question and approach critically the bullshit they get from popular culture/structures of power designed to convince them they are peons and have no power. i really like this idea of "contingent truth" and the idea that truth is socially produced, i.e. what you said above about Nietzsche--"we confuse the social process of “truth-making” with an objectively confirmable truth." That's part of what capital relies on, that we are easy to confuse into believing that their truth is objective and thus true and our truths are contingent and thus untrue.

Not connected to the above, good organizing and teaching practices suggest asking and listening as opposed to telling. How do we cultivate this in both organizers and teachers?

What would happen if we evaluated academic work (service, teaching and research) on criteria developed form organizing principles? (I have a lot more on this)

Ward's Thoughts on truth

Of course Nietzsche and others offer insight into how communities make decisions, and that others must live within the "truth" of those decisions. I fear that this use of truth is too easily confused with factual truth (Ward wrote wiki in 1995, not 1994 as sometimes reported). Some examples are required at least. For example, what is or isn't polite is a community generated truth. As is, it turns out, the number of colors in the rainbow.


Wiki ethos, wiki consciousness, rather than the tehniclogical mechanics. How does wiki affect the way we approach problems.

Overstatement: Wiki is a technological form that shifts and actually changes how people understand themselves and their social identities.

We think that it promotes a way of critical thinking in ways that you are

as you move through the wiki world, rather than being a passive consumer you are forced to make decisions.. you always know that you can change things.

You are always deciding whether or not you are going to change things, the whole process is more clear to you. You will choose not to change things most of the time. There is a tipping point where you will change something. That is different because it is way different than all medias.

When we criticize other media, it is post production. With wiki you are always in process of production. Versions are great, criticism is embedded in the production itself.

What is the relationship between subjectivity between the individual and the technology of wiki

Cultivates a new sensibility

See your effects immediately.. really encourages critical thinking. Encourages you to evaluate things. Instead of just complaining, you can engage it and change it. Makes you see the consequences of your own actions. This is all ideal, because the status quo is easier to change which can give hope that change can be affective more broadly.

It is a language of hypertext -

Low barriers to entry.

  • Face to Face very important
  • Technology doesn't constitute subjectivity.
  • Technology is just one more tool people can use to create the world they want

It felt good to be making real connections online.

1 – sociological – how do new technologies help produce community, how do people use them, why are people allergic to them.

2 – philosophical – how does being on wiki actually change how someone affects, behavior (real names) – how does it make user thinking about community.

Both interested in theoretical, epistemology – but heavily interested how it operates in real life.

Interlocking for me, there is difference between forums and wiki. How is wiki different then other technologies. How does it create a different kind of world citizen?

Another is that real names is crucial to …..building trust online, especially in wiki. Another is that providing for anonymity is important. Another is pseudonyms are destructive.

  • EmergentDemocracy – not taking a poll – even if it is ConsensusPolling – Democracy is ActionBased. LiquidDemocracy

Wiki is about people, people, and people. That is why it is such an important technology. (use opt out example)

  • Organizing using the internet, specifically wiki, as an ethos.
    • Self-organization: the spontaneous emergence of global coherence out of local interactions.
    • Self organizing nature of the simple technology of wiki, challenges top down or expert model. Allows for average person to get their hands dirty, with minimal intro. I think that people will come to it from fresh off the internet. Folks who are on the internet will continue to use their familiar tools.
    • Importance of f2f interaction, including phone to establish some emotional basis for the continued internet interactions.
    • use debate on communicate or die. While using f2f how do use technology that don’t dismiss the importance of f2f – how does f2f contact help shape, not trying to use to replace, enhance after trust is built, recognize tech never replace live contact. Myth that new technology will make traditional ways of communicating obsolete, tech is being used reduce human contact, but not changing the fundamental need of people who need, it is used to speed up workers, it is not a revolution of information, it is another way to control people. Myth is changing ideas
    • Distributive Action Research
    • OneStopSign town.. turn into Metropolis of SelfOrganized Knowledge
  • RealNames – allows for anonymous input, but being connected that is not anonymity.
  • Brainstorm Community, PortlandPatternRepository, MeatballWiki, CommunityWiki
  • Psudonyms, damaging
  • Wikipedia
  • Rumsfeld and his CEO – using business tactics to organize military right now. People imagine that technology shapes consciousness. He is business vision of tech, I have people vision, want to help shape technology in that vision
  • Ideas of tech we have through pop culture are mostly about ruling class ideas, which are
  • Scale is fundamental to technology. Geographers / philosopher. Technology – the way that wiki scales – one wiki – all wiki –still are all sitting on your ass in front of the computer screen.


Wiki Communities

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