Wikipedia = Local-Narrative

On: October 22, 2009
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About Siying Yang
When she was 21, she came to Amsterdam for New Media studies from China. Now she is 23 years old, she has graduated but still living in Amsterdam, specially doing social media marketing in fashion industry. She begins to fall in love with Europe since the moment she was born, and currently enjoys Amsterdam a lot. She will never give up supporting Liverpool FC and language study.


Jean-François Lyotard, a French philosopher and postmodern theorist, talks about “meta-narratives” and “local-narratives”. According to him, a meta-narrative is an abstract idea that is thought to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge. Briefly, in concept of modernism, meta-narrative is a thing people used to believe in – the faith in a grand understanding of everything, like religion, science etc. However, in the postmodern, there’s recognition of the local-narrative. Lyotard defines postmodern as “incredulity toward meta-narratives”. No matter what kind of “meta-narrative” is, postmodernists will hold an “incredulity” attitude, they don’t think there are enough convincing evidence exists in meta-narrative, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t believe “the truth”. Generally speaking, for local- narrative, there is no truth, but a series of truths.


Let’s take a look at the Wikipedia’s project page, it says that “Wikipedia: No original research ”.And in section named “Verifiability”, it is obvious to find that “The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. This policy and the verifiability policy reinforce each other by requiring that only assertions, theories, opinions, and arguments that have already been published in a reliable source may be used in Wikipedia.” From which we can reach a conclusion that Local-Narrative is what Wikipedia is.

In Wikipedia, there are millions of entries composed by people from the whole wide world. Once a person create an entry, other people can continue to contribute to this entry without permission of the original composer. So that it is not hard to see that there are a series of individual truths put together by different people instead of one authority in the Wikipedia. This phenomenon always appears in political entries. Here I take the entry “Taiwan” for example. There are a big number of political arguments about the relationship between Taiwan and People’s Republic of China. People in Taiwan don’t think they are a part of People’s Republic of China because of the distinction between their regimes, but they do believe that they always belong to Republic of China. With a complicated historical background, when we search for “Taiwan” in the Wikipedia, there are two ceptions- one is the independent Taiwan of Republic of China, the other is Taiwan province of People’s Republic of China-in fact these two “Taiwan” are the same conception. This leads to me to believe that those entries in Wikipedia are not completely objective truths, instead, they are subjective. Anyone can put anything on there and different entries on Wikipedia might contradict each other. In the Chinese version of Wikipedia, there is a page about a famous Chinese person “Li Zongren”, who was the Vice President of  Republic of China. He moved to Taiwan before the found of People’s Republic of China and back to Beijing to spend his last days of life. In his wiki page, there is a significant contradict like: In the part of world-part two, he is given more positive opinions- which might be composed by people who support Taiwan. In the part of his last living days, there refers a wish according to him that Taiwan must be a part of People’s Republic of China- which is probably composed by people from mainland of China.

Besides, Wikipedia can’t be a master-narrative because each entry is by different people, which make it possible that not all entries are from the same source, or governed officially. There are some entries about legends. For those areas with long history, some legends are only be told generation by generation and cannot be found on any books. To some extent, it is possible that there are different version of these legends and different sources. There is even no right or wrong between these sources. It is just all local-narratives put together.

Postmodernism is a difficult topic to understand. Wikipedia offers a platform for us to search for explanation of some words, and also help us to understand a lot of things better. But since the feature of local-narrative in Wikipedia, I might say every composer has his own meta-narrative, so there is even no objective way to decide which entry is absolutely right. I can’t help myself to ask a question: what is the consequence of the postmodernism? What is the consequence of the development of Wikipedia? Maybe we should continue encouraging people to make more and new contribution to Wikipedia, but not using Wikipedia to object and control other people’s ideas.




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