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Category Archives: Mikhail’s section

A question raised in Wednesday’s lecture – and in the Beltran text – struck me as though-provoking: what makes the DREAM activists so unafraid of coming out at the risk of arrest and deportation; of claiming their rights when in all probability they will be structurally denied? I think this is an important question to consider, especially given the social media channels and modes appropriated by the activists for their protests. It reveals the crucial place and stakes of visibility and identity in the realm of politics.

Ranciere claims that “politics distributes the sensible”: politics dictates what is seeable/readable and what is unseeable/unreadable in society. In democracy, this seems to be one of the ways in which politics negotiates the paradox of democratic government being challenged by democratic social life: aspirations and demands that exceed the capacity of the democratic institution are not merely denied, but rendered unreadable. By this logic, undocumented immigrant youth are not denied their rights, but are assumed as having no rights in the first place – they are not “citizens”, their identities are not legitimized by the government, and therefore they constitute an excess unreadable by the so-called universality of law.

It is in this context that an “aggressive politics of visibility” becomes crucial. Undocumented youth must make themselves seen and defined in order to claim stakes in politics; it is only by putting their identity at stake, can they assert their identity. Or, as Beltran writes, “they [enact] the very rights and standing they [demand] from the government”. Ranciere echoes this idea in his account of feminist protest during the French Revolution: “they showed that since they could enact those rights, they possessed them.”

The stakes of visibility are perhaps even higher in the political realm of the internet. Given its archival and open-access nature, visibility on the internet is associated with possession of a legitimized identity that transcends the limited jurisdictions of government . This is linked to the valorization of online archives and repositories of knowledge, even though their “authoritativeness” is questionable: if something or someone cannot be Googled or pulled up on Wikipedia, one tends to question its existence or legitimacy. However, precisely because the internet promises the democratic ideal of “unqualified access” to visibility, it is unable to escape the paradox of democracy : unqualified access encourages ‘mass individualism’ which threatens equal access to visibility. This is of course complicated by the fact that even ‘unqualified access’ is arguable. Access is unevenly distributed along economic, social and geographic lines, which means that not everyone is able to possess a visible identity and voice on the internet. This struck me during lab on Tuesday, when I was perusing the Community Portal section of Wikipedia and came across a plea urging users to write articles for a list of ‘highly cited women scientists’. It made me think: what about the many persons denied the right to netizenship? What about the persons undocumented on the internet, who do not have access to the abundant and egalitarian visibility promised by the internet?

thoughts on Wikipedia and democracy:

The ” alleged democratic paradox: “democracy as a form of government is threatened by democracy as a form of social and political life and so the former must repress the latter”” seems to me to relate to the idea of templates and pre-ordained platforms.  Wikipedia is a democratic encyclopedia. Anyone, who has internet access, is allowed to edit it and to add to it.  However, one must add to it by using the specific formulas which Wikipedia gives. If these formats were not in place then Wikipedia would no longer be ‘Wikipedia.’ It wouldn’t be a single unified body, it would be an information free for all – a kind of huge exquisite corpse.  It is these rules and templates which allow for Wikipedia to remain identifiable and name-able. The specific colors, formats, codes, and grammatical frameworks which exist for people contributing to the system allow for many voices to be heard at the same time. These frameworks allow for democracy to be functional – much like societal laws put in place by the few for the many.

This post is informed by the Ranciere essay, though implicitly. In other words, I don’t have a tidy quote to help facilitate this inquiry, but I feel it’s worth producing none the less. Monday’s lecture, which introduced the early 90s credo “i want a dyke for president” really stuck with me. I cannot help but think about all the ways this sentiment has been perverted and co-opted. In the same way that we have noted that the counterculture forever pads the coffers of the mainstream via appropriate and subsumption, it seems that this same phenomenon is evident in this call for a queering of democracy. In other words, how can be see this mantra take on an ethos of queer populism, and how can we see that being appropriated. I can’t help but think about the election of George W Bush, the quintessential leader with whom you’d like to have a beer, who can’t spell very well, whose defining qualities (or selling points, as it were) are his very unapologetic averageness. Of course GWB was very much an average man, a distant cry from queer anything, but was his election somehow facilitated via the appropriation of the dyke for president sentiment. When we are thinking about democracy having ever having to close down new openings and excesses, can we see that as a process of appropriation?

In the past few years of my college career, I have been faced with many situations of research. When faced with a topic, whether it be serious or menial, my first visit is always to wikipedia. I do not know why, either – with all of the cautions that are brought along by using it, wikipedia is the first visit. I know the majority of the reason is due to its rank on google when anything is typed in; wikipedia is always the first or second link. This has made me hold wikipedia in high regard, as it is the largest encyclopedia assembled. The issue I have is that I just trust the moderators of wikipedia that they are presenting me with the correct information. As every user has their own ability to change any information on the site, I still automatically trust that the information is true. I wonder how long until wikipedia leads me astray, and I am not longer a wikipedia loyal.

On Wednesday Prof. Chun ended with a question about what work these templates do. The question seems quite similar to what we ask of  digital media technologies, which is: what does it mean to create an interface for self expression..(?) Like software or social media, the template is just another form that mediates our ability to communicate. Much like a meme, the template exists as a shared piece of cultural knowledge—a constraint that acts as a locus for reception and meaning-making.

However, the stakes of software/memes/social media templates is that they enter us into a space of privitization. Ranciere argues “It is the very logic of the police to carry out a continuous privatization of the universal. As consequence, the universal must be put into play continuously and, for that to happen, it must be divided anew.” Perhaps shoehorning this in will prove to be difficult. But the quick point I want to make is that memes/templates perform the service of the police—in that they commodify a universality. By engaging with these social technologies we enter the marketplace. This is not “re-enacting”, a continuous play, it is constraint, C A P I T U L A T I O N.

This week’s lab on wikipedia editing brought to mind some curious thoughts about the site. I’ve always held wikipedia in high regard, mainly because of its populist composition where it is the people using the website who determine the contents of what they are using rather than simply having a predetermined set of information imposed upon them. Curiously, this lab has made me reconsider this belief somewhat. As a longtime user of wikipedia, I have read what must be thousands of wikipedia entries and articles but have never made a single edit or contribution. As I asked some of my friends, I have come to realize that most of my peers have also never made an entry to wikipedia. Who then, is determining content? Are these contributors representative of all the different perspectives contained in the subject in which they are writing? Who has final say on what stays on certain pages? From what I’ve been able to gather, a relatively small group of people make a large amount of edits on most wikipedia pages. Final say is held in the hands of site administrators and certain users called pending changes reviewers granted special permission. The aura of complete inclusion is therefore largely an illusion. Like other sources of information, wikipedia is ultimately biased, and although it has a unique bias, it has a bias nonetheless.

It is interesting that the correct technological structure can inspire trust. I am thinking in particular of the trust placed in video in the Rodney King case — the video became thought of as the objective truth, making all other human experience subjective and thus lesser forms of testimony. Videos, however, are hardly objective. Manipulations as subtle as lighting and background noise can make two videos of the same case seem, in tone, very different. This kind of manipulation does not come in after affects — it comes from the point of view of the filmmaker. The role of the filmmaker as an artist is cast aside when we see cell phone videos — we have cell phones, and we are not filmmakers. But as soon as the camera is in the hands of someone with bias, the person becomes a filmmaker, and their opinions will, although often involuntarily, influence the way in which the incident is filmed and the way it will later be interpreted. The trust placed in video is an insidious thing.

It is interesting, therefore, that many people do not trust wikipedia on the same level. This might have something to do with the video appearing more as a “window.” The fact remains that despite the constant peer review and fact-checking that goes into a wikipedia article — and I have heard many people say that a wikipedia article is now more reliable than most encyclopedia articles — many people do not consider it a “valid” source simply because it is crowd-sourced information. But isn’t the most reliable information information that draws on as many sources and people as possible? I believe it is possible that people mistrust information that they are told comes from people with bias, though perhaps they should mistrust information from sources that hide their biases, such as video of important events supplied by bystanders.

With the Wikipedia editing lab and the assignment to edit Wikipedia, I was thinking a lot about vandalism and how Wikipedia vandalism relates to traditional conceptions of vandalism. In both there is an aspect of wanting to see your personal mark on a public space and often creative elements of both become incorporated into popular culture (links to vandalized pages spreading on social media or graffiti artists being given gallery space). One major difference is in identity; in graffiti it is possible to build an identity around the vandalism you are performing but in Wikipedia editing the processes for quick deletion are such that such an identity becomes difficult to cultivate.

An interesting point that was raised during lecture about the Rodney King case was the implications of using video surveillance evidence as pretty much the sole witness of the entire testimony. In not even calling Rodney King himself to the stand, and instead breaking down frame by frame the video footage, the video itself is treated as a completely objective point of view – which of course, isn’t true. Not only can video footage be manipulated by the filmmaker, either by selecting only certain segments to record or only filming from selective angles (and also the parallel concept of the poor image as someone brought up during lecture), so that the media itself is unreliable, but the interpretation of the media is still up for human and thus subjective reasoning. Video itself is limited in its scope even before it is laid out for various subjects, and therefore is certainly not ideal, perfect, or objective – so what role can it play? Is it successfully interpreted by the person behind the camera, or can it be at all? Is it more or less reliable than the human witnesses present – if it is, is it justifiable to have video surveillance infiltrate more aspects of our lives.

As we saw at the beginning of class through the article on the first hologram protest that technology is growing in its role to further democratic action. The Beltran article first provides a reminder that in the days before Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, most rallies and protests were set up by word of mouth, print, and community leaders. With more recent protests such as Project Unbreakable however, where people post silent videos and tell their story through note cards, they can–ironically–let their voice be heard without speaking a single word. It can be almost effortless for the video subject themselves to spread awareness because of the digital nature of their protest. With some simple clicks to view and share, the number of views steadily increases. The clicks themselves and the view count mean nothing on their own. If every video producer and audience member watched and shared while relying on someone else to actually address the subject at hand, no protest would ever take place. The people themselves must decide to exercise their political freedom and actually become activists. Therefore, technology is a only a tool for democracy, not a solution or producer.