Senior Thesis: Democracy in Wikipedia

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My thesis, written 2006 and 2007 in partial fulfillment of my undergraduate degree at The University of Texas at Austin, studied the legal culture of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that is collaboratively edited over one hundred thousand contributors around the world. Despite the fact that the project emphasizes freedom and gives off an aura of structurelessness, Wikipedia has a complex and often hidden legal system, dominating every contribution made to the encyclopedia. This thesis uses methods in legal anthropology to examine the law through stories and histories, giving the reader a sense of not only what the Wikipedian legal system is, but also what fundamental assumptions the community makes in utilizing such a system. No specific knowledge of Wikipedia or legal philosophy is necessary for the full comprehension of this work, although readers who are familiar with one or both might find it especially relevant.

I should note that this work has many flaws, and is currently being revised. Please send me an e-mail if you wish to cite it, as it is of a draft-like quality. I have realized that it is built on a fundamental misconception that juridical power structures (that is, ways of conceptualizing the role of law) are universal. I am in the process of writing a more dialectical “social history” of Wikipedia that recognizes the interdependency of hard and soft norms, social roles and relationships, as well as formal and informal social networks in Wikipedia.

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