Public scholarship, or: profs should edit wikipedia

Over on Savage Minds Rex Golub has written a compelling provocation about the places of ‘public anthropology’ (which I think could probably be broadened to ‘public scholarship). He points out that it’s all very well writing letters to venerable broad sheet newspapers but that doesn’t necessarily achieve much. Instead, Professors (or academics more broadly) might better spend their time editing wikipedia pages because that is the prime site of the public sourcing, and contestation, of knowledge. I think its quite a compelling argument… not least when thinking about the current trend and push for demonstrating “impact”. Isn’t it quite “impactful” to be the person who attempts to ensure that the most widely used source of knowledge on a given topic is rigorously written/edited? There’s no academic brownie points in that though… no promotions or awards/rewards are going to be given on that basis!

What do you think?

…my issue is that anthropologists are doing public anthropology in the wrong places and in the wrong way because they don’t understand how social media works today and are seduced by an out-moded model of cultural capital that makes them feels heroic, but it isn’t actually efficacious.

The new public anthropology, on the other hand, is not glamorous, will not make you famous, can be emotionally uncomfortable, involves working in new and unfamiliar genres, and can change the world. A good example of this sort of public anthropology is editing Wikipedia

Wikipedia is ground zero for knowledge in the world today. Everyone uses it to look stuff up quickly. Everyone. Some people may take it more seriously than others, but because its content can be reused on other sites, what wikipedia says spreads everywhere. For better or for worse – I’d say for better – it’s the public record of the state of human knowledge at the moment. Unlike letters to the New York Times, Wikipedia gets read. Constantly. When you contribute to Wikipedia, you are concretely and immediately altering what the world knows about your topic of expertise.

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