Submissions:2019/Next Steps for Countering Systemic Bias: Beyond Filling the Gaps

From WikiConference North America
Jump to: navigation, search

This submission has been accepted for WikiConference North America 2019.


Next Steps for Countering Systemic Bias: Beyond Filling the Gaps


Reliability of Information
+ Inclusion and Diversity

Type of session:



Since early in the development of the project, Wikipedians have been concerned with overcoming systemic biases in our coverage of the world’s knowledge, especially those rooted in forms of social marginalization. It has been easy to document disparities in Wikipedia’s coverage along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, geography, indigeneity, and economic class. Moreover, major campaigns within the community have emerged attempting to reverse these disparities, largely by focusing on addressing “gaps” in the demographics of Wikipedia editors and by writing new articles about people and topics overlooked by the encyclopedia.

While celebrating this work, this talk proposes that the work of overcoming systemic bias and achieving knowledge equity requires a large strategy beyond addressing these gaps. Drawing on several foundational texts in women’s history, I argue that compensatory scholarship (filling the gaps or “add marginalized people and stir”) is only the first step in rewriting a comprehensive narrative. A second step is to recognize how exclusionary narratives—such as the uncivilized and vanishing indigenous person—have insinuated themselves into common-sense narratives of history, and looking for ways to rewrite marginalized people into overarching stories. A third approach looks at the broadest maps of space and time on Wikipedia and makes sure that all peoples have place within them. This talk is meant to provoke conversations about not just how to create a more inclusive encyclopedia, but to think about how to scale up such efforts.

Academic Peer Review option:


Author name:

Carwil Bjork-James

E-mail address:

Wikimedia username:


Affiliated organization(s):

Vanderbilt University; Board Member, Wiki Education

Estimated time:


Preferred room size:


Special requests:

Have you presented on this topic previously? If yes, where/when?:

This is a sequel to a talk given at WCNA 2018. Some of the material was presented at Worlds of Wikimedia in Sydney, June 2019.

If your submission is not accepted, would you be open to presenting your topic in another part of the program? (e.g. lightning talk or unconference session)