WikiSym 2007: Workshop Proposal (half day format)
An excavation implies the unearthing of something that is hidden at the surface level - be it fossils or systematic bias in language. Wikis have been especially efficient at harnessing the diverse intelligence of many in order to scrutinize the textual utterances and contributions of others, one individual at a time. The "discussion pages" of politically-volatile Wikipedia entries are magnets for textual scrutiny. So what would happen if wikis had its globalized masses analyzing the published works of single authors?
"Collaborative Excavations" is a proposed workshop to explore the possibility of using wikis to excavate and tease out the values that are cached in so called "objective" or "neutral" writing conventions of the journalism profession.
In this context, a news report is assumed to belong to a particular discourse that is not necessarily bound by geography, but bound in some way within a larger system of meaning. It will be assumed that within a given news report, a group of wiki contributers will be able to easily identify highly conceptual terms that are fixed in particular ways.
Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, in their theory of discourse, invoke Lacan's idea of the "floating signifier"; certain words or concepts feature a high degree of polyvalence (semantic relativity) than other words. However, these varied meanings can be flattened by particular discourses that temporarily "fix" the signifier in place thereby altering what can be signified. In this case, a word or phrase (one that is conceptually-loaded but now semantically fixed by the news report) will be identified as a potential "floating signifer" and submitted for collaborative scrutiny. Once the words are isolated for analysis, collaborators will attempt to identify alternative discourses that favor using this word in others ways that diverge from the article. Participants will attempt to rewrite sections of the article as it would have been written under the identified list of alternative discourses. All the re-writings will be juxtaposed for comparison.
This workshop will also discuss the technological visual aids and tools that could be implemented within wiki software to supplement user experience in this exercise. For example, after the news report is analyzed, the font size/style of different words would vary by their identified degree of polyvalence. Each word is also a hyper-link, which takes the reader to a higher-level discussion regarding the relationship of that word to a number of discourses.
Said Kassem Hamideh is a Master's degree student in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Said is currently consulting with the non-profit interfaith organization, Children of Abraham, which unites Jewish and Muslim youth around the world in collaborative, wiki-based learning projects. Said also initiated the Collaboratively Building Concepts project at Wikiversity.