Submissions/The Dangerous Lure of Supracultural Ontologies

From Wikimania


This is an Open submission for Wikimania 2017 that has not yet been reviewed by a member of the Programme Committee.

Submission no. 2118 - C7, TWD
Title of the submission
The Dangerous Lure of Supracultural Ontologies
Type of submission
lecture (preferred) or roundtable discussion
Author of the submission
en:Loren Koenig
type of submission
lecture or roundtable discussion
Language of presentation
  • Oral presentation: English
  • Slides etc.: bilingual (English and French)
E-mail address
BlaueBlüte (talk)
Country of origin
Germany, Europe
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
Wikimedia New York City
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (up to 300 words to describe your proposal)
Disentangling interlanguage links across all Wikipedias by centralizing them in what would become Wikidata may have seemed an obvious solution; and centralizing facts from infoboxes only consequential. But things became more complicated when somewhere along the way Wikidata evolved into a full-fledged, collaboratively engineered ontology.
Wikipedia pages represent subjects as viewed by the speakers of a language (and thus a certain culture, or limited set of cultures).
Ontologies represent worldviews (albeit stringently formalized like, “A is a kind of B, which necessarily consists of parts C and D”), but being engineered by humans they inherently are cultural artifacts biased by their creators’ backgrounds.
Wikidata, then, as a centralized knowledge base for all Wikipedias would have to somehow leave all this cultural baggage behind and emerge as a supracultural ontology—an undoubtedly enticing prospect: explain the world once and just once. But how realistic is that, with Wikidata still being human-edited?
As mindful tool creators we should view Wikidata as a machinery wielding (intellectual) power, raising several questions: Who edits Wikidata? What is their (cultural) background, and how does it inform the worldview encoded in Wikidata? To which Wikidata consumers is that worldview even applicable or helpful? And also, what about the Wikipedia editors who have to work with Wikidata—or around it?
The specter of cultural imperialism—or how to avoid it—is among the issues thus raised, which become ever more pressing the tighter Wikidata gets integrated into media ultimately consumed by or affecting humans, and call into question the vision of algorithmically written Wikipedia articles.
As a more practical sideshow, we will also see how two of the main goals of Wikidata, centralizing interlanguage links and establishing a queriable ontology, are at odds with one another, and what could possibly be done about that.
What will attendees take away from this session?
  • improved understanding of Wikipedia–Wikidata interaction, in particular interlanguage links
    • sensitization for issues of current implementation
    • inspiration for improvement
  • questions as to the limits of supracultural (that is, language-independent) knowledge
    • more critical understanding of Wikidata
    • increased sensitivity for intercultural effects of knowledge representation
Theme of presentation
WikiCulture & Community
For workshops and discussions, what level is the intended audience?
Length of session (if other than 25 minutes, specify how long)
25 minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Slides or further information (optional)
based on the Wikidata mini-series currently being developed for presentation at WM NYC meetups
Special requests
none as yet
Submission is a Draft

Interested attendees

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