Knowledge Justice in the Digital Archive (Talk + Resources)

The digital revolution has arguably made more information – otherwise locked away in the exclusionary spaces of libraries, archives, personal collections, and memory – more accessible to more people, who can now both contribute to and draw from remarkable digitized repositories of free content, like Wikipedia. The open data, software, and access movements have been influential in this ‘democratization’ of knowledge online. The sheer quantity (scale) of digital content and the participatory architecture of digital spaces can lend themselves to an underlying assumption that digital is more equitable, representative, and accessible than the analog processes that mediated knowledge in the past. But as we rely ever more heavily on online knowledge repositories today, it is especially crucial to ask who and what is included in these new, virtual collections. And what is missing? Today, nearly half the world remains offline, so we know that access to and creation of digital content is not equal. This talk addresses digital inequality in terms of ‘knowledge justice’ – the equal participation, representation, and visibility of different forms of knowledge online. It starts at the level of marginalized communities and asks: when is ‘open’ exclusionary? And when does ‘closed’ offer opportunities for self-determination and empowerment?

This was an invited talk for the Open and Engaged Conference 2020 – Inequities in Scholarly Communications hosted by the British Library.

You can watch the whole talk here >> Knowledge Justice in the Digital Archive: The Exclusions of ‘Open’ / The Inclusions of ‘Closed’


Nico Pace ( talks about asking the right questions when communities start building their own networks and archives. (Personal interview, recorded November 2018.)
Nico Pace ( talks about the process of working with an unconnected community to imagine what the community will be like with the internet. (Personal interview, recorded November 2018).

Our Stories, Our Knowledges (2018)
A resource series from Whose Knowledge? that presents some important insights into the structures of power marginalized communities are dismantling and the struggles they face in centering their knowledges online.  It is co-authored by members of Native American communities of the Kumeyaay and Shoshone, Dalit feminist communities from India and the diaspora, LGBTIQA communities from Bosnia Herzegovina, the Whose Knowledge? team and its allies.

Open Access, the Global South and the Politics of Knowledge Production and Circulation: An Open Insights interview with Leslie Chan
In this interview, Leslie Chan, Associate Professor in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media and the Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, talks about the inequalities inherent in open access publishing, with a particular focus on the Global South.

Latin America’s longstanding open access ecosystem could be undermined by proposals from the Global North (2019)
A post on the LSE blog by Eduardo Aguado López and Arianna Becerril García discussing the implications of Plan S for Latin America’s open access platforms.

The Geographically Uneven Coverage of Wikipedia (2014)
Research by  Mark Graham, Bernie Hogan, Ralph Straumann and Ahmed Medhat analyzing the uneven patterns of representation in Wikipedia and their contributing factors. 

The Digital Language Divide
Citing research from Mark Graham and team, Holly Young writers in the Guardian about how the language we speak influences the internet we experience.

Women’s Rights Online: closing the digital gender gap for a more equal world (2020)
This report provides a global snapshot of the state of digital gender inequality and finds that even where women are closing the gap on basic internet access, they face a multitude of additional barriers to using the internet and fully participating online.

Mapping Wikipedia (The Atlantic) (2020)

The Lopsided Geography of Wikipedia (The Atlantic) (2016)

Engagement in the Knowledge Economy: Regional Patterns of Content Creation with a Focus on Sub-Saharan Africa (2017)
Increasing digital connectivity has sparked many hopes for the democratization of information and knowledge pro- duction in sub-Saharan Africa. To investigate the patterns of knowledge creation in the region compared to other world regions, we examine three key metrics: spatial distributions of academic articles (traditional knowledge pro- duction), collaborative software development, and Internet domain registrations (digitally mediated knowledge production). We and that, contrary to the expectation that digital content is more evenly geographically distributed than academic articles, the global and regional patterns of collaborative coding and domain registrations are more uneven than those of academic articles. Despite hopes for democratization afforded by the information revolution, sub-Saharan Africa produces a smaller share of digital content than academic articles. Our results suggest the factors often framed as catalysts in the transformation into a knowledge economy do not relate to the three metrics uni- formly. While connectivity is an important enabler of digital content creation, it seems to be only a necessary, not a sufacient, condition; wealth, innovation capacity, and public spending on education are also important factors.

Gender differences and bias in open source: pull request acceptance of women versus men (2017)
Biases against women in the workplace have been documented in a variety of studies. This paper presents a large scale study on gender bias, where we compare acceptance rates of contributions from men versus women in an open source software community. Surprisingly, our results show that women’s contributions tend to be accepted more often than men’s. However, for contributors who are outsiders to a project and their gender is identifiable, men’s acceptance rates are higher. Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless.

Data Sources:

The Higher Education Statistics Agency

UKRI Diversity Data

The Broken Pipeline – Barriers to Black PhD Students Accessing Research Council Funding