The Problem of the Aggregate Author: Attribution, Accountability, and the Construction of Collaborative Knowledge in Online Communities

By Stephen T. Jordan.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.161-168. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 833.473KB).

Stephen T. Jordan

Ph.D. Program, Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Stephen T. Jordan is pursuing the Ph.D. in Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, where he conducts research in academic and professional publishing, rhetoric and public policy, scientific and medical discourse (especially about HIV/AIDS), the rhetoric of community and social change, and contemporary rhetorical theory. He is also a professional writer and editor, and has directed the publication of numerous textbooks and monographs in the disciplinary categories of rhetoric and communication studies.

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