Chapter 2: Authority and Expertise in New Sites of Knowledge Production

Anne Beaulieu, Sarah de Rijcke, and Bas van Heur

This chapter examines how the creation of knowledge, as a form of cultural production and consumption, has been reshaped by new media practices. Much has been written recently about how user-generated content enters and reshapes circulatory matrices of media and power, and about how new media practices redefine the role of cultural producers (Jenkins 2006; Bruns 2008). For example, platforms like Flickr have been hailed as sites of new literacies and creativities, while blogs have been implicated in debates about how new dynamics around information and news production are reshaping the public sphere as a pillar of democracy. Much attention has been awarded to fields such as journalism, the creative industries and politics, but the ways in which new media practices are mediated through and inflected by the often highly institutionalized contexts of scientific research is left unaddressed. Investigating this becomes particularly important in an era in which lay-experts become increasingly visible and in which researchers are expected to develop relations beyond the university walls.

Scientists, scholars, and professional researchers have always been producers and creators, but the relations to other actors and to activities beyond institutional boundaries are increasingly important. This chapter considers what happens when the work of knowledge production is pursued in infrastructural settings that reach out beyond institutions (or that bypass them more or less entirely), that take on new media forms (Hayles 2002; van Dijck 2007; Hine 2008) such as networked databases, and that engage new actors.

Given the traditional importance of institutions in the production of knowledge, what are the relations between these wider mediated networks as new sites of knowledge production and traditional, institutional sites? To answer this question, we present three ethnographic case studies. In each case, the relation between institutions and infrastructure take on different configurations, and reveal important features of how new actors come to be involved in knowledge production. These cases are the use of the digital catalogue linked to the website of the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, the efforts of the city of Maastricht to develop new ways of engaging with its historical heritage, and the use of Flickr for the study of street art. Our analysis of new sites of knowledge production will enable us to address how new mediated sites of knowledge production relate to other contemporary spheres of cultural production and to other historical moments.


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