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Encyclopedia or Cosmopedia? Collective Intelligence and Knowledge Technospaces

Author Panagiota Alevizou
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About the author
Panagiota Alevizou is a doctoral researcher at the department of Media and Film, University of Sussex (UK). She specialises in new media and knowledge, with a particular interest in learning technologies, social software and forms of media literacy. Her doctoral thesis has focused on electronic encyclopaedia and other multimodal communication forms to explore the relationship between information technology, knowledge and learning.
“While the cosmopedia can be interpreted metaphorically as the ideal figure of knowledge …, from a technical point of view, collective intellects are effectively capable of constructing their own cosmopedia” (Lévy, 1998: 216).

One of the most influential theorists of Cyberculture, Pierre Lévy offered a metaphorical conceptualization of cyberspace, in terms of encyclopaedia, to argue for a new relationship between technology and knowledge, a relationship that allows the cultivation of a mutually developed and enhanced knowledge space through collective intelligence and interactive cognitive potentialities. This paper is based on Lévy’s posthumanistist theorizing of cyberspace and hypertext to offer an analysis of wikis, and more specifically of wikipedia. It will trace the emergence and evolution of wikipedia in comparison with generic conventions of and ideological assumptions on encyclopaedia, to argue for the need to theorize the material and symbolic specificities, as well as the social and political properties and limits of this cultural form and medium for representing knowledge, emblematic of universally distributed and technologically enabled intelligence. It discusses a set of issues regarding:

  1. the aesthetic characteristics of wikipedia;
  2. its institutional structures within the contemporary media landscape; and
  3. its social, cultural and ideological significance.

The paper draws on the theoretical and the empirical temporality of the encyclopaedia genre, its relationship with media technology and the history of cultural formations of knowledge representation to argue for a position that critically situates wikipedia away from the utopian ‘knowledge hive’, that preoccupies Lévy’s conceptualization of cyberspace, and within a more egalitarian actualization of authority and authorship, and of knowledge representation.

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