This essay examines controversies surrounding content aggregation communities that permit anonymous contribution and editing by members (such as Wikipedia) in the context of historical representations of authorship and contemporary scholarship about the social construction of situated knowledge. I argue that neither the materially-focused portraits of the author offered in great literary statements and by noted book historians, which assume a discrete, sentient being with special talents (Wordsworth 1800, Eisenstein 1979, Woodmansee 1984), nor the post-structural theories that replace the individual author with a diffuse “author function” defined by textual and cultural conventions (Barthes 1968, Foucault 1970), nor the influential studies of collaborative writing practice in rhetoric and composition studies (Lunsford/Ede 1983, 1995), adequately account for the phenomenon of ongoing contribution to content aggregation sites.
Bringing together the discourses of history, linguistics and rhetoricial studies, I theorize a new category—which I name “aggregate authorship”—by speculating about how such an interdisciplinary concept might shape ongoing conversations about the essential mechanisms of authorship on Wikipedia as they affect our understanding of how knowledge is made and circulated online.
|Keywords:||Authorship, Online Communities, Wikipedia, Collaboration, Attribution, Accountability, Foucault, Chartier, Woodmansee, Legal, Censorship, Material, Encyclopedia, Database, Situated Knowledge, Social Construction of Knowledge|
Ph.D. Program, Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
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