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The notion of democracy highlighted by Jacques Ranciere is a compelling one. He argues,

…‘good democracy’ refers to a form of government able to tame the double excess of physical commitment and egotistical behavior inherent to the essence of everyday life. (47)

As he explains, there is an inherent tension between the implications of democracy for the individual and for the government, which leads to his conceptualization that,

…democracy is neither a form of government nor a form of social life. Democracy is the institution of politics as such, of politics as a paradox. (50)

The individual is implored to act in his/her best interests, being the economic rational actor required for the free market to function. At the same time, though, the institutions of the state must be able to control or manipulate (to an extent) the actions of its citizens or else the entire system breaks down.

Wikipedia is the embodiment of this notion of democracy. Users are hybrid consumer-producers (as they are in markets), and they are invited to edit pages at their own will. However, there is a protocol in place that restrains the user’s impact on the site. Edits are captured and saved in a publicly-visible log, enabling any edit to be quickly undone by any other user. There is also an explicitly stated list of what can be considered Wikipedia content. Important among these is that the content on Wikipedia be “neutral, unbiased”, the definition of which is laid out in a (notably uneditable) document which has the illusion of being another general Wikipedia article but is notably not editable. Thus the hybrid protocol/crowdsourced policing of Wikipedia is the factor which “tame[s]” (to borrow Ranciere’s words) the individuals’ urges. Further more, while the occasional vandalism (protest?) occurs on Wikipedia, facts are corrected with greater and greater speed.

But it is this notion of crowdsourced, protocol-based management of content that gives Wikipedia its authority. Indeed, it is easy to see that Wikipedia is more democratic than traditional encyclopaedia, which provide a single, static source of information. Untrusted at its inception, Wikipedia’s policing of its content and relentless requirement for citation have made it rather trusted, especially among younger generations.

Ranciere’s characterization of the tension inherent in democracy seems to paint it as problematic or at least unsustainable, but perhaps this push and pull can be beneficial. The tension requires that each side keep the other in line and establishes an understanding of the relationship between individual and institution.