Maude Gauthier and Kim Sawchuk of Concordia University will present on “ACTipedia: addressing the invisibility of critical ageing studies on Wikipedia” at the International Association for Media and Communication Research to be held in Montreal from July 12 to 16 2015.
Abstract: The recent efforts of activist academics, such as FEMTECHNET, to transform the representation of women on Wikipedia reveal how the Internet continues to remain a space of contestation and struggle, often reproducing existing power relations. In this paper, we contribute to these debates by addressing, more specifically, the representation of age, and ageism, within Wikipedia. We discuss our attempts to rectify these representations through a collaborative action research project known as ACTipedia, launched by Ageing Communication Technology (ACT) a Montreal-based, international research team of scholars and community activists addressing the vexed relationship between ageing and digital media (www.actproject.ca).
The critical role of Wikipedia for setting the discursive terrain for many subjects cannot be underestimated: it is often the first “go-to” point of entry for students and the general public. It has been the object of substantial controversy (Reagle 2010) and many academics adopt a cautionary attitude towards Wikipedia (Bayliss 2013). Our initial inventory of existing articles quickly revealed the hegemony of a particular purview on age and ageing from a health-related point of view. Missing is a more robust critical ageing studies point of view on the intersections between age, culture and communications. In a world increasingly dominated by digital technologies this analysis that has lead us to throw the caution described by Bayliss to the wind.
This paper reflects on the lessons learned through our engagements with ACTipedia. Our reflection is structured into three areas of inter-related inquiry: first, we discuss the intellectual and social ramifications of the invisibility of critical ageing studies on Wikipedia and the high visibility of entries that conflates ageing with health; second, we analyze our attempts to rectify and shift the discourse through ACTipedia; third, we address the larger question of the role of Wikipedia as a new generator of public discourses on age and ageing, particularly for those of us who work between French and English in the context of Québec.
Theoretically, we will draw on the work of Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci to address the in/visibility of specific discourses of ageing on Wikipedia. Engaging with theories of mediation (Livingstone 2009) and mediatisation (Hepp 2012), we will use our work on “tactical mediatisation” (Sawchuk 2013) as a point of intellectual departure to understand our current intervention into “Wikispace”. To what extent can we develop appropriate “tactics” (de Certeau 1988) to change the strategic organization of knowledge and attend to the administrative logics that govern entry into Wikispace? How can we use these tactical interventions, with community groups and across languages, to contest hegemonic discourses on ageing through digital media? How do language and local context impact on how we experience the notions of hegemony and resistance? In what ways does our participation and intervention open us up to perpetuating the hegemony we are trying to resist? In terms of methods, we refer back to Hearn & al (2009) on participant action research. We will draw on comments shared after the sessions as well as informal discussions with individual researchers and on our experience within the project.