Title

Hackers, Cyborgs, and Wikipedians: The Political Economy and Cultural History of Wikipedia

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies/ Communication

First Advisor

Victoria Ekstrand, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Nancy Patterson, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Donald McQuarie, PhD (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

David Parry, PhD (Committee Member)

Abstract

This dissertation explores the political economy and cultural history of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. It demonstrates how Wikipedia, an influential and popular site of knowledge production and distribution, was influenced by its heritage from the hacker communities of the late twentieth century. More specifically, Wikipedia was shaped by an ideal I call, “the cyborg individual,” which held that the production of knowledge was best entrusted to a widely distributed network of individual human subjects and individually owned computers. I trace how this ideal emerged from hacker culture in response to anxieties hackers experienced due to their

intimate relationships with machines. I go on to demonstrate how this ideal influenced how Wikipedia was understood both those involved in the early history of the site, and those writing about it. In particular, legal scholar Yochai Benkler seems to base his understanding of Wikipedia and its strengths on the cyborg individual ideal. Having established this, I then move on to show how the cyborg individual ideal misunderstands Wikipedia's actual method of production. Most importantly, it overlooks the importance of how the boundaries drawn around communities and shared technological resources shape Wikipedia's content. I then proceed to begin the process of building what I believe is a better way of understanding Wikipedia, by tracing how communities and shared resources shape the production of recent Wikipedia articles.