The Legal Consciousness of Wikipedia
190 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2015
Date Written: September 1, 2014
For the last two decades, socio-legal scholars have studied the way ordinary people, and predominantly disempowered people, experience and understand law. Only a few studies have focused on the legal consciousness of the upper-middle class or those who hold greater economic, social or symbolic power.
The following dissertation adds to this body of knowledge through an online ethnography of the legal consciousness of the editors of Wikipedia. As the dissertation reveals, legality holds a surprisingly central place in Wikipedia, especially given the expressed rejection of legality in the community’s ethos. Wikipedians manage a complex and delicate system of formal rules and dispute-resolution institutions that extensively use legal vocabulary and rely on the paradigmatic structures and images of national law. The centrality of legality in Wikipedia further poses the question of the interrelations that are created when an egalitarian, open, participatory and ad-hoc community incorporates formality, strict procedures and semi-legal institutions and vocabulary.
Keywords: legal consciousness, wikipedia, law and society, ethnography, digital ethnography, commons based peer production
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