Submissions:2021/Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality

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This submission has been accepted for WikiConference North America 2021.


Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality


Global & Local, Inclusion & Diversity

Type of session:



Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality: A Panel Discussion and Response

Join authors and educators Zach McDowell and Matt Vetter for an overview and Q&A related to their recently published book Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality. This session will be responded to and introduced by Ian Ramjohn of Wiki Education. Acknowledging Wikipedia’s status as the world’s foremost knowledge repository, the book explores the disconnect between the encyclopedia's formalized policy and the often-unspoken norms that govern its knowledge-making processes. Applying theoretical concepts relevant to the encyclopedias “culture-of-use” (Thorne) and the archeology of knowledge (Foucault), McDowell and Vetter explore how epistemological practices in Wikipedia are shaped by historically-situated norms and ideologies at once past and present in the encyclopedia’s development. While the authors ultimately celebrate the community's ambitions for free and open knowledge, they balance praise with critique through an honest evaluation of Wikipedia's many problems related to diversity and inclusion. By means of this critique, the book illustrates Wikipedia's struggle to combat systemic biases and lack of representation of marginalized topics and identities as it becomes the standard bearer for equitable and accessible representation of reality in an age of digital disinformation and fake news.

Like their book, this presentation will leverage McDowell and Vetter’s combined experience researching and teaching Wikipedia over the past decade to cover topics related to how Wikipedia, as the largest repository of information in the world, shapes perceptions of reality through

  • Reliability and verifiability policies and guidelines
  • Notability, knowledge gaps, and exclusionary practices
  • Wikipedia’s community and challenges related to participation

Following this presentations, Ian Ramjohn will respond to the presentation and lead a discussion / Q&A session on how specific findings in the book might inform Wikipedia-based education practices.

McDowell, Z.J., & Vetter, M.A. (2021). Wikipedia and the Representation of Reality (1st ed.). Routledge.

Academic Peer Review option:


Author name:

Zachary J. McDowell; Matthew A. Vetter

E-mail address:;

Wikimedia username:

ZachMcDowell, Matthewvetter

Affiliated organization(s):

University of Illinois at Chicago; Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Estimated time:

45 minutes

Special requests:

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

Not this particular topic

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)