Process Vs. Product: The Credibility of The Social Edition, and the Lack of a Definitive End

The notion of the social edition is new to me. As I have had little experience with websites like that of Wikisource before, I came to the realization during our class time of how complex the process of formation for a “social edition” really is. Learning that as a class of around fifteen students we would be putting together one cohesive document was slightly overwhelming.

As our course consists of students of literature from very different literary backgrounds and areas of interest, I will admit that I am hesitant to have faith that the completion of this text will develop smoothly. The majority of our program operates as individual scholars implementing their own styles into their work. I predict that the social edition awaiting creation will highlight the many differences in creative processes that each student has. This will either work towards the benefit of the project, or create an obstacle for it. A colleague of mine raised the issue earlier, that each contribution to the social edition may not be able to be weighed on equal grounds, as there “exists a hierarchy of knowledge”. While I agree for the most part with this statement, and especially agree with the notion of implications surrounding such actions, I believe there may be a kind of benefit to the anonymity of information added to social editions. It opens up a ground for users who are not scholars to contribute; the lack of a professional title will no longer stand in the way of credibility.

The strangest aspect of the social edition, for me at least, is the lack of a definitive end. As the social edition is not only a collaborative project for the students in our class, but also has the potential to be altered by complete strangers, the lack of the definitive end of a work is a foreign concept. The reason this stands out as so odd to me (again referring back to the mention of different creative processes) is because in most of the scholarly circumstances I have been a part of need an end, or end they are considered incomplete. Regarding this view on the social edition, the Siemens et. al. article states, “This has a destabilizing effect; such tools facilitate a model of textual interaction and intervention that encourage us to see the scholarly text as a process rather than a product, and the initial, primary editor as a facilitator, rather than progenitor, of textual knowledge creation”(16). The notion of a “destabilizing effect” is the most prominent statement, as that is exactly the effect that the social edition has. The never-ending editing process creates a permanent gap in the work, as more information can always be added; process vs. product. While the appeal of this is apparent, it is definitely slightly disorienting. If a text has no definitive end, can it ever be looked upon as complete?

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4 Responses to Process Vs. Product: The Credibility of The Social Edition, and the Lack of a Definitive End

  1. cleda.choi says:

    I agree with Emily, especially in terms of the permanently incomplete text. I also think another important aspect of this issue is that it renders the editorial evolution of a work invisible. Unlike print, which has published editions, texts on Wikisource can be constantly tweaked. While this may, in fact, be positive (the text is more up to date than its print predecessor), it also works to conceal the editorial process (all the decisions the editor makes while editing a text). I think this may deceptively contribute to Wikisource’s self-characterization as a neutral source.

    • jason.boyd says:

      But is the editorial process really concealed in Wikisource? What about the information on the “Edit” pages, the “History” pages and the “Discussion” pages? These seem to provide a rich and quite elaborate means of tracking the editorial process.

  2. laura.chapnick says:

    I think that Emily’s point about “process” is especially interesting. It is also fair to say that since the social edition needs to be read as more of a “process rather than a product” while engaging with a social edition the user experiences a kind of hypermediacy; he or she is constantly aware of the interface. As opposed to reading a book, while using a social edition the user acknowledges that what he or she is reading is mediated through the program being used. Contributing to this awareness is also the fact that, as Emily says, the social edition is always changing. Unlike a print edition, which embodies a sense of finality and therefore allows the reader to focus on the information it contains, the user of a social edition must be conscious of the information, who is writing it, and how it is produced.

  3. Pingback: And So Our Social Experiment Begins: The Difficulties of Editing Socially | The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes

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