Out Now! Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality

Cover of Vetter’s latest book, Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality

Dr. Matthew Vetter, with co-author Dr. Zachary McDowell (University of Illinois at Chicago), has recently published a book entitled Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality. The book, which leverages Vetter’s 10+ years of researching and teaching with Wikipedia, is a contemporary examination of epistemological policy and practice in what has become the world’s largest and most widely-used knowledge archive, the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” As you read this sentence, Wikipedia “develops at a rate of over 1.9 edits per second, performed by editors from all over the world” (“Wikipedia: Statistics”). In the English language version alone, which boasts over 6,355,864 articles on every topic imaginable, an average of
nearly 600 new articles are created every day (“Wikipedia:Statistics”). That’s over 91 times larger than Encyclopedia Britannica (“Wikipedia: Size”). Not only has Wikipedia grown in terms of size over the last two decades since its founding, but the encyclopedia has also matured in terms of accuracy and reliability of its content into what some have called the “Internet’s good grown-up” (Harrison), a community that “exists to battle fake news” (Forsyth), and “the last best place on the Internet” (Cooke). Multiple studies have now shown that Wikipedia is at least as accurate as other encyclopedias, and perhaps even more reliable (Brown;Giles; Hwang et al.; Kräenbring et al.; Taraborelli). Acknowledging Wikipedia’s new status as the encyclopedia, the world’s foremost open source and open access knowledge repository, the book explores the complex disconnect between the encyclopedia’s formalized policy and the often-unspoken norms that govern its knowledge-making processes. More specifically, Vetter and McDowell invoke Steven Thorne’s theoretical concept “culture-of-use” to explore and analyze how “linguistic, multimodal, cultural, interactional, and cognitive practices” emerge “in the articulation between the immediate contextual aspects…and the historically sedimented associations, purposes, and values that accrue to a digital communication tool” (56). While the authors ultimately celebrate the community’s ambitions for free and open knowledge, they balance praise with critique through an honest evaluation of the Wikipedia’s many problems related to diversity and inclusion. By means of this critique, the book illustrates Wikipedia’s struggle to combat systemic biases and lack of representation of marginalized topics and identities as it becomes the standard bearer for equitable and accessible representation of reality in an age of digital disinformation and fake news.

Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality is available in both print and (open access) ebook formats from Routledge.

McDowell, Z.J., & Vetter, M.A. (2021). Wikipediaand the Representation of Reality
(1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003094081

Research Statement

As a scholar in digital rhetorics and humanities, my research is concerned with exploring the ways technologies mediate writing and writing pedagogy. I subscribe to the notion that writing itself is a technology, and that by understanding it as such, we can come to new realizations about how to best understand and teach towards a literacy for the 21st century. While much of my research focuses on the opportunities for pedagogy afforded by digital tools and communities, I’m also  attuned to the need for socio-cultural critique of communicative interfaces, new media, and digital writing technologies. Such technologies are not neutral tools. They come with rhetorical, cultural, and ideological assumptions embedded in their structural design. I want to know more about how technologies shape our lives—our writing, thinking, believing, acting—and share that knowledge with others. Such an agenda means exploring the ways technologies, despite good intent, often silence, omit and/or marginalize particular social groups, identities, or cultures.

Along these lines, my vision for research revolves around the notion of critical praxis in new media and digital communities. I invoke the term praxis to signify a socially meaningful and rhetorically conscious method of active response to and within digital spaces, one that bases such action on careful reflection of the ways in which technologies and (digital) communities mediate social realities and hierarchies. It wasn’t until I had defended my dissertation that I felt like I could really “see” what it was I was doing: attempting to enact and enable writing knowledge as a mode of praxis (in the early chapters) and theorizing a method of digital intervention (through realization of digital cultural politics) as praxis in the later chapters. This kind of work, studying the ideological and epistemological make-up of digital (writing) cultures, fascinates me as an intellectual project. But I think my passion for moving in this direction is bigger than that- it has to do with helping others face the challenge of coming to terms with the ways these technologies and their cultures-of-use influence our lives.

As I move towards this type of research, however, I do not leave behind my interest and attention to digital pedagogy scholarship. Rather, I’m interested in taking an approach where my newer research interests can inform my continuing attention to teaching.

Download a Writing Sample:

Vetter, Matthew A.“Teaching Wikipedia: Appalachian Rhetoric and the Encyclopedic Politics of Representation.” College English, vol. 80, no. 5, 2018.  

Vetter, Matthew A. “Archive 2.0: What Composition Students and Academic Libraries Can Gain from Digital-Collaborative Pedagogies.” Composition Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2014.

Online Writing Sample: 

Vetter, Matthew A., and Keon Pettiway. “Hacking Hetero/Normative Logics: Queer Feminist Media Praxis in Wikipedia.”  Technoculture, vol. 7, 2017.