Chapter 7: Agency and Accountability – Consensus and Dissensus applied to ethnic identity

Emina’s experience with Wikipedia shows us how very different dissensus and concensus are in creating and supporting wiki entries, and the impact it can have on ethnic and personal identities. Many social changes happen as a result concensus. Often times, those changes can result in an adjustment to our self-perception as well as how we interact with the world. “The fixity of ethnicity as an attribute of the self would appear to be the opposite of the identities constructed in virtual spaces.” (132)

As an illustration of concensus affecting ethnic identity, we can look at the labels people attribute to different societies and ethnic groups. We have a social identity in the United States as Americans. Within that social identity, many different groups have broken into ethnic identities as well. However, that same ethnicity may be entirely different in other parts of the world. Take for instance the socially accepted label of African-American. Friends of mine from Europe find this label to be inaccurate. After all, as they argue, there is no such country or location known as Africa-America, therefore one cannot be African-American. One is either African or American, but not both. Yet in Germany, those same individuals we refer to as African-American are ascribed the label that translates to the word blue.

Caeton points out that Emina adopted a strategy of perpetual negotiation. Yet, she preferred “a stable sense of identity predicated on…durable truths.” (133) If we look social changes within the United States, we see ethnic identities that have been adopted through social consensus and perpetual negotiation. Social forces in the United States have changed the references by which we call various ethnic groups, over the course of our history. Those of African descent have been referred to, at different times, as Colored, Negro, Black and African-American. Similarly, indigenous tribes members have been ascribed ethnic labels such as heathens, Indians and Native Americans. For any ethnic group, we have no idea what the reference will change to in coming years.

By contrast, wikis are a process of dissensus. Change is constantly happening as contributions and discussions alter the entries. The many anonymous contributions and alterations based on editing and discussions lead to the conclusion that “Wikipedia.com is not a fact!” (127) Instead, it is an ongoing discussion, where everything can be questioned, debated and changed. Ultimately, the “wiki discourse disrupts standardized definitions of quality, truth and knowledge.” (128) This is in sharp contrast to the concensus-driven definitions found in society.

 

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