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Towards a multi-perspectival wiki


From time to time I help Michel Bauwens with his P2P Foundation wiki, often just like I have in the last couple of days, with a table in Michel's wiki page Theory of Thought-Shapers, his extracts from an article he sees as significant. (The whole article is at I agree, there is lots of interesting thinking there. The only thing that jars a little with me is the sharpness of their distinction between mechanical and organic.

But here's my stronger reflection … I've been thinking for a while about how to represent intellectual/academic papers in a multi-perspectival way, and this brings these thoughts up strongly. Just to go back to the P2P wiki for a while, as you can see, Michel's norm is to quote the extracts from articles that he takes as most significant, and adds a section that he calls ‘Discussion’ where he quotes other sources that talk about the article or topic. Only rarely does he quote himself or give his own opinion. Michel thus expresses his views not directly, but by selective quotation. Which is fine, of course, as this kind of resource tends to be more valuable than one that is simply giving one person's opinion – their perspective. Michel does have a perspective, naturally, but it tends to be a refreshingly broad one.

I don't see all perspectives as equally useful or valuable. Actually I don't see how anyone could, honestly. Much richness comes, though, from giving different perspectives. And as I see it, if you want even more richness than simply quoting or citing diverse perspectives, that can come from inviting the people with those perspectives into dialogue. Watch them, listen to them, read how their perspectives broaden and enrich each other.

That, to me, is a useful diagnostic of an important personal characteristic: open-mindedness. When you are in dialogue with someone who holds apparently opposing views or opinions, how do you respond? Do you argue for the superiority of your own position? Do you try to deconstruct the opposition; to win in debate; to prove your case, as if you were in a court of law? Or, conversely, do you first try to understand and empathise with the other position? Do you do deep/reflective listening, or even ‘steel-manning’? Understanding the point of view of another different person doesn't mean abandoning or betraying your own views, understandings, truths. And if two or more people take this approach, it can lead to all participants coming out of that dialogue enriched, expanded, wiser even. We all will have access to another perspective, to add to the ones we already grasp, and to give us all a deeper view into our shared, intersubjective reality.

Now, back to the wiki. While it's relatively easy to do this face-to-face, synchronously, how can you do that asynchronously, remotely? I've heard of exchanges of letters, I've engaged in exchanges of e-mails, but that's usually between just two, and the dynamic of two is, in my experience, a lot less generative than the dynamic of the collective. So instead, what I envisage is a wiki page where the ‘commentary’ (rather than ‘discussion’) is open to a group of people who collectively share their views on the article, or topic, in question. By reading each other's contributions, they can progressively refine as well as expand their own positions, so that the whole commentary can be multi-perspectival, and offer the non-commenting reader a richer, fuller view of the subject.

I wouldn't want this to be an invitation to sound off irresponsibly and unaccountably. So all the commentators would have their own pages on the wiki, and all readers to track where they are coming from and what else they have commented or written themselves. Many of the commentators could be authors in their own right. Or perhaps, following the theme of collectivity, they could be joint authors.

This bears on my theme of what I have just recently called “ontological commoning”. I mean, not fabricating a synthetic amalgam, or any kind of basic common denominator among the contributors (which could easily be most uninteresting) but implicitly, through that dialogue, synchronous or asynchronous, building up a language along with a practice of contributing mutually enriching diverse perspectives.

Inclusivity? To me that is more of a challenge, and a process. I don't see inclusivity as an end state, because there will never be a time when everything is included all at once. I see it as a process — how do we include every new contribution as it appears? The starting process is relatively straightforward in terms of ontological commoning between two people (sure, I will write more later). But adding new contributions?

d/2023-02-17.txt · Last modified: 2023-02-17 12:00 by simongrant