Locating And Timing Matters Of Attention Through Wikipedia: Technical, Epistemological And Political Considerations


Wikipedia has become a ubiquitous digital knowledge infrastructure and thereby a locus for politics by other means. As the primary online reference, it is central in our everyday life digital information ecosystem. Because of its uniqueness, it constitutes not only an essential object of study, but more and more an instrument for doing social research – especially as many social media APIs are closed to most researchers. While open, its traces still require considerable work before being amenable for exploration, repurposing, and experimentation. Several initiatives have thus sought to facilitate this by conceiving accessible tools, protocols, and platforms. Much of this effort has focused on Wikipedia as a site of controversies, employing edit histories to trace them. Against this backdrop, we draw on our own experience in tool development within the WikiMaps project to reflect upon the potential of Wikipedia data, other than edits, for locating and timing matters in STS and beyond. Using consultation traces and geocoded contents across all editions since 2008, our comparative cartographic visualization device works as an open observatory of interest dynamics for all collectively documented phenomena which take place. Whether matters of fact or matters of concern, these matters of attention provide unique insights into complex processes, such as collective memory formation. We illustrate this with the case of the commemoration of Hiroshima, Chernobyl, and Fukushima nuclear disasters. To conclude, we sum up the technical, epistemological, and political value of open tools drawing on Wikipedia for the infrastructuring of STS research.


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Contributed date

May 28, 2020 - 4:40am

Critical Commentary

This is an abstract for the EASST/4S 2020 open panel "Digital Experiments in the Making: Methods, Tools, and Platforms in the Infrastructuring of STS".

Cite as

Nicolas Baya-Laffite - STSLab Université de Lausanne, Ogier Maitre - STSLab Université de Lausanne and Boris Beaude - STSLab Université de Lausanne, "Locating And Timing Matters Of Attention Through Wikipedia: Technical, Epistemological And Political Considerations", contributed by Lina Franken, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 28 May 2020, accessed 8 December 2023. https://stsinfrastructures.org/content/locating-and-timing-matters-attention-through-wikipedia-technical-epistemological-and