Articles in English

Rewrite History: Wikipedia as a tool to produce a collaborative history and historiography, Conferenza di Studi Africani, 2012

Inserito da iopensa il Mer, 2012-09-19 10:21

Presentation at the Conferenza di Studi Africani, Università di Pavia, Facoltà di Scienze Politiche, 19/09/2012.

The Power of Wikipedia Legitimacy and Territorial Control, Wikipedia Academy 2012

Inserito da iopensa il Ven, 2012-06-29 09:00

Conference at Wikipedia Academy. The Power of Wikipedia Legitimacy and Territorial Control, Wikipedia Academy, Berlin, 29/06/2012.
Full paper

A research article focused on the power of Wikipedia and the issues of legitimacy and territorial control related to it. At the moment systems of authority have been observed in the online community; there are essays on Wikimedia Foundation and on the geography of Wikipedia and its contributors. The geopolitical approach of Wikipedia is not currently a research topic, but it is at the centre of discussions, policies, and documents produced by Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia chapters. The aim of this article is to start filling this gap, and to highlight the power of Wikipedia and the issues of legitimacy and territorial control by specifically referring to Africa. It looks at Wikipedia from a geopolitical perspective and it is based on the experience of the projects WikiAfrica (2006-2012) and Share Your Knowledge (2011-2012), on anthropological studies on identity, esotism, otherness, eurocentrism and territory, and on artworks1. What appears is that Wikipedia has the power of a nation and it ignores half a century of studies and debates about identity, esotism, otherness, eurocentrism and territory. Wikipedia can speak with governments and negotiate with them; speaking on behalf of Wikipedia means to speak with the power of a nation. But as post-independence and colonial nations, today most powerful encyclopedia and knowledge distributing system acts in the same way as post- independence and colonial nations did: it focuses its geopolitical approach on nation building (based on languages, monuments and schoolbooks) and it nourishes nationalist approaches. Wikipedia nationalism is reinforced by the growing number of institutions interested in collaborating with Wikipedia (the so-called GLAMs), which are managed on a territorial basis.

Keywords: Wikipedia, Africa, GLAMs, offline power, legitimacy, control, geography, nationalism, WikiAfrica, Share Your Knowledge

Wikipedia as a Space and Strategy for Negotiating Art and Cultural Knowledge in African Cities

Inserito da iopensa il Ven, 2012-06-01 23:15

Wikipedia as a Space and Strategy for Negotiating Art and Cultural Knowledge in African Cities alla conferenza Embattled Spaces – Contested Orders di VAD-Vereinigung für Afrikawissenschaften in Deutschland 2012 all’interno del panel 32 (New) spaces and strategies for negotiating art and cultural knowledge in African cities curato da Kerstin Pinther e Larissa Förster.

In African cities individual artists, artist collectives and independent cultural institutions have distanced themselves from state-initiated cultural politics, they truly offer alternative platforms for the production, representation and reflection of cultural knowledge and they have gained recognition among a growing international network. But did they achieve to negotiate hegemonic national representations and Western Art History (Rasheed Araeen)?
This paper presents the experiences of three cultural institutions (doual’art based in Douala, Kër Thiossane based in Dakar and Chimurenga based more or less in Cape Town) to show how major cultural institutions based in African cities working with high quality projects and wide networks surely question hegemonic national representations and Western Art History (Achille Mbembe) but they still struggle to posit themselves at a urban, national, continental and international level.
The paper questions the borders of African cities and it presents Wikipedia as a different and powerful space and strategy for negotiating art and cultural knowledge. With over 280 languages, 20 million articles, 100.000 active editors and over 365 million readers, Wikipedia is much more than a website (Andrew Lih): it is today everybody’s textbook. Structured in tribes and dominated by new gatekeepers (Mathieu O’Neil), Wikipedia has the power of a new nation and it determines what knowledge is. It aspires to produce a collaboratively built free knowledge capable of presenting all points of view in a neutral way: for this very reason it is the right space for negotiating hegemonic national representations, Western Art History, art and cultural knowledge and for acknowledging the role of individual artists, artist collectives and independent cultural institutions based in African cities and their work as first sources.

Wikipedia, copyright, copyleft, Creative Commons, knowledge, collaborative knowledge, mainstream knowledge, rewrite history, cultural institutions, African cities, doual’art, Chimurenga, Kër Thiossane, Douala, Dakar, Cape Town, interfaces, Western Art History, Art History, GLAM.

Where People are Knowledge in Chimurenga Chronicle

Inserito da iopensa il Gio, 2011-10-06 14:48

Original version of the article Where People are Knowledge in Chimurenga Chronicle 18-24 May 2008, Another Section* Media & Technology/People are Knowledge, October 2011 (predated 18-24 May 2008), p. 11. Reading list.

Where People are Knowledge. After the Wikipedia Academy organized in Johannesburg in October 2007, intellectuals and authors are now questioning the relationship between Wikipedia and Africa.

What can an online collaborative encyclopedia offer Africa and what can Africa provide? In 2005 architect Mamadou Jean Charles Tall proposed a presentation at Wikimania in Frankfurt titled WIKI Africa and he wrote colleagues and friends “I believe [Wikipedia] is a good opportunity to create contents available to anyone and that we can edit by ourselves. I trust each of us is concerned with the creation of contents belonging to Africa” (C’est à mon sens une bonne opportunité de créer un contenu qui soit disponible et qui soit éditable par nous mêmes. Je crois que la création de contenus propres à l’Afrique est dans les préoccupations de tous). Last October the founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales preached in Johannesburg the African participation to the biggest no profit volunteer-based ever existing project on open knowledge and he was welcomed with great enthusiasm. Internet evangelists foresaw a glorious future with an online rainbow of encyclopedias written in all existing and extinct African languages and predicted millions of former copyright pirates transformed into committed panafrican editors fighting for open data and copyleft. Six months later problems got the upper hand.

Some say a fight started between the committed panafrican editor and the dominant thirty-year-old western white male with a scientific training editor. Articles on African knowledge were delated on Wikipedia because unnotable. Unsourced content was delated because unsourced; sourced content was delated because unnotably sourced. Everybody knew since the beginning that to access and contribute to Wikipedia either you need a computer with a stable Internet connection or some sort of cheap futuristic portable device, but very few foresaw that sources would emerge as the major battlefield.

On Wikipedia no original research can be used. To explain it very simply you can’t write on Wikipedia that in Senegal there are lots of baobab even if you are in Senegal and you see lots of baobabs; you need to find a book where it is written it (or you need to publish a book on it), and then you can write it on Wikipedia by carefully avoiding plagiarism and by adding a footnote with the proper bibliography and page number. Published paper books with an online digital version are the preferred source on the online encyclopedia, followed by articles published on major New York City and London based newspapers.

To go back to the baobab, this means that in Senegal with lots of baobabs, with a computer, a stable internet connection and the necessary skills to edit Wikipedia, you still need to find the fucking book. Until you write about baobabs, you can trust a book on the subject exists at least for touristic reasons, but things get more complicated when you approach other subjects. You need to find the written source, but you also need that it exists. Furthermore if the source you cite is not available online and if the publisher is not well known, the problem that may arise is that someone on Wikipedia can question the real existence of what you are citing.

Achal Prabhala – editor of the magazine Civil Lines, copyleft activist and member of the Wikimedia Foundation advisory board – is advocating the opportunity of accepting oral citations on Wikipedia. Books are based on interviews; by collecting, recording and uploading them – according to Achal Prabhala – those sources could greatly contribute to develop encyclopedic knowledge in the “Global South” (rumors say that this expression carried away Wikimedia Foundation, even though it divides the world and mankind into two and an article published on the magazine Nature states that in June 2005 its mentioning caused the death of 14 kittens in Bogota). A research and a video production on oral citation with the institutional and economic support of Wikimedia Foundation would be an essential step to lobby for a new definition of sources and notability on Wikipedia. Another important strategy to facilitate the relationship between Wikipedia and Africa could be the production of a critical mass of African contents produced with the commitment of cultural institutions. Unfortunately this is not the best timing, since Wikipedia Foundation is under one of the most turbulent period of its existence with the nomination of its first executive director and the current crisis of its board of trustees. The energy raised by the Johannesburg Wikimedia Academy will probably get lost and it will take time before an outreach program will be implemented but we are not so far from the day Wikipedia will take Nairobi, when 30.000 African contributions will be produced and people will be willing to donate millions of dollars to support an encyclopedia that anyone can modify to win a bet.

Douala in Translation

Inserito da iopensa il Dom, 2007-12-09 19:43

Iolanda Pensa, Princess in Douala in Translation. A view of the city and its creative transformative potentials, Episode Publishers, Rotterdam, 2008, pp. 110-117, cc by-sa.

Check List- Africa at the Venice Biennale (Mousse)

Inserito da iopensa il Gio, 2007-09-20 12:17

Iolanda Pensa, Check List in “Mousse”, 06/2007, cc by-sa.

“Finally, an African pavilion at the Venice Biennial!” – must have said prof. Carlo Anti and Aldobrandino Mochi while putting their compasses, goniometers and pendulums in their pockets. It was 1922 when the thirteenth Venice Biennial invited the public to enter the African pavilions.

Eighty-five years later, here we are again with the same desire to celebrate the “first” “African” pavilion in Venice.