A river by any other name: Ganga/Ganges and the postcolonial politics of knowledge on Wikipedia

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The historically established relationship between knowledge and power has enabled critical scholars across disciplines to interrogate the ways in which knowledge has served as the handmaiden of various forms of power. The ways in which that relationship operates in the digital realm however remains to be fully understood. This essay’s analysis of an edit war that occurred over the naming of the Wikipedia page on the Indian river Ganga, seeks to understand the operation of that relationship in the networked digital realm. Through analyzing the conflict and evaluating the different arguments proffered by the opposing sides in the debate, this essay attempts to uncover the contradictions within its desired goal of apolitical and neutral knowledge that Wikipedia is founded upon. The analysis shows that debates on Wikipedia are invariably imbued with pre-existing entrenched ideologies thus ensuring that persistence and numerical strength outweigh evidence and the merit of an argument as determining factors. This holds crucial lessons for the imaginations of a plural and globally representative web that was supposed to challenge the inequities of the offline world.


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