Sexuality and Wikipedia

On: September 24, 2009
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About Jelle Kamsma
I am a MA student of New Media at the University of Amsterdam. I have a bachelor degree in Media and Culture. After three years mostly focussing on film and visual culture I've made the switch to new media. Mostly because I'm interested in journalism and how it has to adapt to the new media. I just finished an internship at ANP Video, a Dutch press agency that makes short video-items for different newssites. I'm curious to find out how new media theories will aply to my experiences in the practical field.

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http://thingsthatpass.wordpress.com/    

Foucault argued that political power and coercion is not only exercised by our government but also by institutions which we don’t immediately see as political, like our education or our healthcare. I would like to add Wikipedia to that list. Wikipedia sees a Neutral Point of View (NPoV) as “a fundamental Wikimedia principle and a cornerstone of Wikipedia.” But are they really neutral? Foucault saw it as an import task in our society to criticize these so-called neutral institutions and to expose political violence they exercise. Naturally, Wikipedia understands that there is no such thing as complete objectivity. I’m however more interested in the politics of exclusion that undermine this NPoV.

Also Wikipedia sees this as a problem and has started a project to examine what they call a “systematic bias”. According to surveys the average Wikipedia-contributor is an educated white male from a developed country and an affinity for technology. Wikipedia discusses some of the consequences of this bias but leaves out the issue of morality laundering and more specific, sexuality. One example of this is the English Wikipedia page on sexuality which has no pictures at all, which seems a bit strange to me. Are the morals of somebody else imposed upon me? The Dutch Wikipedia page seems a bit more open-minded and does show detailed pictures. However, somebody else could feel that our more liberal values are imposed upon them.

This is why I would like conduct a research which examines the power relations at play on Wikipedia and especially how they relate to sexuality. Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality that all concepts of what is sexual are historically, regionally and culturally determined. He also saw sex as something essentially political. These notions in combination with the presumed neutrality of Wikipedia deserve a critical evaluation.

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