Amit Basole: Wikipedia is irrelevant, and it’s not

(Wikipedia Critical Point of View Conference March 26-27 2010)

by Karlijn Marchildon

The interesting thing about Wikipedia is that it’s irrelevant, and at the same time it’s not.” With this statement Amit Basole opens his talk on the global issues and outlooks of Wikipedia and the broader context in which it exists. Basole explains that although the majority of the world’s population hasn’t ever heard of Wikipedia (making it quite irrelevant), the collaborative knowledge platform at the same time does represent a new social order, and a new economy that very much impacts the lives of exactly those people who haven’t ever heard of it. In that sense, Wikipedia could be understood as relevant indeed.

Amit Basole has come to Amsterdam to give a talk about the implications of this new social order. As many before him have claimed, there has been a shift from an industrial, to a knowledge based society. This shift has many far reaching implications for the world’s population, it’s cultures and knowledge hierarchies. In fact, Basole ultimately claims that in this new social order, new (knowledge) hierarchies have been born. Basole, together with the India-based Vidya Ashram collective on whose behalf he speaks, has taken it upon himself to “investigate these dynamics of knowledge in society, production and transmission, values, its relationship to the state, the market and so on“.

Vidya Ashram is a collective that believes that a radical intervention in the world of knowledge is necessary for a radical transformation of society. As society is changing, so is knowledge. With the driving philosophy that a people’s knowledge movement (as in Lokavidya) is part of mass movements of people on the less fortunate side of the digital divide, can lead to a new philosophy of knowledge required for a radical pro-people transformation of society. With this socialist background, Vidya Ashram aims at bringing people from all over together to share, debate and explore the new knowledge hierarchies.

In a way, Wikipedia as an embodiment of this virtual knowledge, reflects and flattens hierarchies of knowledge as it presents different approaches of content, as it is collaborative.

More concretely, Vidya Ashram makes an effort to open debate and interaction on knowledge hierarchies and flows, in order to give shape to this new pro-people society where all types and flows of knowledge are respected from Lokavidya knowledge (evolving tacit people’s practical knowledge) to traditional (scientific) knowledge. As the Vidya Ashram web site states; it calls on all college and university educated people to deliberate on the following actions:

  • Opposition to the building of elite institutions of higher education.
  • Recognition of knowledge in society, knowledge with peasants and artisans, and reflection of this in our writings and public stands.
  • Support for proper economic returns on Lokavidya; at a minimum buying Lokavidya products, and campaigning for it.
  • Opposition of policies that restrict peasants and artisans from using their knowledge for economic activity. Opposition to the expropriation of lokavidya by the corporations.
  • Campaign for public spending on research in the fields and work-sites by peasants and artisans.
  • Work for the dignity of Lokavidya by building overlaps between formal education at all levels and Lokavidya.

This call is a clear action towards the exploration of the ruling knowledge paradigm. In that sense, Basole’s talk on the concept of knowledge and society is radical and relevant in the same sense as he claims Wikipedia is. In his words: “Although the content is conservative, the form is radical.”