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29 November 2006


From: Kali Tal <kali[at]kalital.com>
Subject: <nettime> Racism and Sexism at Citizendium
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2006 11:44:57 -0700
To: Nettime-l system <nettime-l[at]bbs.thing.net>

A month or two ago I was invited to join in building a new repository 
of knowledge on the Internet, a spin-off from Wikipedia called 
Citizendium. The chief attraction of Citizendium (also called CZ) was 
that articles would be authored by laypersons and experts alike, but 
editorially approved by experts -- thus creating an environment of 
authority and reliability that Wikipedia, with its lack of quality 
control, could not match.  I strongly support public intellectual 
work and I am all for making reliable information and analysis widely 
available to all who seek it.  I joined CZ with high hopes, and with 
the goal of recruiting others to participate in a project I felt 
could be very useful and rewarding. My initial contributions 
impressed Larry Sanger enough that he invited me to join the 
Executive Board of Citizendium, and I accepted.

I wrote to colleagues and friends about CZ and invited them to 
participate -- and especially appealed to African Americanist and 
feminist scholars, since that is my own area of expertise.  I asked, 
in my announcements, what Wikipedia might have looked like if there 
were significant participation from black or women scholars from its 
inception.  I assumed -- wrongly -- that Ethnic studies and Women's 
studies scholars would be welcome at CZ.  I was gravely 
disappointed.  We are not welcome, and our disciplines are not 
welcome.  We may participate only if we are willing to subsume our 
work under the headings of other, "more traditional" disciplines.  CZ 
as conceived of and enforced by Sanger is a strongly conservative 
endeavor, and adamantly opposed to progressive scholarship.

I am withdrawing from Citizendium because of the racist and sexist 
policy put in place by Larry Sanger, who claims that the disciplines 
of Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies do not belong in the list of top 
level categories in Citizendium, or as individual categories at all.  
Sanger has unilaterally decided that all race and gender topics 
should be split up under traditional disciplinary headings, so that 
there will be, for example, a sub-group of "African American 
Literature," and "African American History," but no category -- at 
any level -- in African American studies, and he embraces the same 
tactic of fragmenting other Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies.  The 
fact that his broad strokes of exclusion primarily effect women and 
minority scholars does not seem to matter to him.

Here is what Sanger has to say about gender and race studies:

"I take the view that most of these university departments are inherently
cross-disciplinary and--here I know I am treading on thin ice and saying
what few dare to say--highly politicized themselves.  Well, I do not  want to
make CZ "politically correct," i.e., appealing especially to one  (largely
American/Western/Left) ideology.  I really do want to make it  neutral, and
that means **not** creating special groups for ideologically-motivated
groups." [posted November 16, 2006 10:29:59 AM MST to the Citizendium 
Editors listserv]

The notion that traditional disciplines are race and gender "neutral" 
is at the heart of Sanger's rationalization for exclusion.  The 
credibility of this argument has been (for anyone knowledgeable in 
the those areas) thoroughly destroyed over the last thirty or forty 
years, as accumulated quantitative and qualitative evidence has shown 
that despite many white male scholars' protestations to the contrary, 
power and authority have remained firmly gripped in their hands. The 
claim that clearly biased disciplines are "neutral" is a plain and 
simple power play, and an excuse to perpetuate the patterns of 
exclusion that have been in place for hundreds of years. The tactic 
of fragmenting ethnic and gender studies into small, minority sub-
categories under the control of larger white and male dominated 
groups is also well understood, both by the white men who employ the 
tactic to their advantage and by the minorities and women who are 
disadvantaged by it. The idea that Gender and Ethnic Studies are 
"political" and enforce "political correctness," while somehow 
traditional disciplines are above politics and do not enforce an 
inequitable Status Quo would be laughable if it were not so 
pernicious and injurious to the people who are oppressed by sexism 
and racism -- women and minorities.

Once again, this is a case of a white male scholar with no experience 
in either race or gender studies legislating, with broad strokes, how 
those disciplines will be represented in an academic endeavor he 
hopes will be of major importance. He does it with no regard for the 
current state of scholarship in those fields, or the expertise of 
their practitioners -- an irony in an academic endeavor that claims 
to rely on expertise for its authority.  Expertise apparently only 
counts if it agrees with the naive opinions of the untutored white 
man in charge.

Sanger claims that his version of neutrality is rooted in 
Enlightenment principles. But as anyone working race and gender 
studies knows very well, white men have traditionally only applied 
Enlightenment principles to each other.  It is the work of women and 
minorities that has extended those principles and challenged those 
who espouse them to apply them more and more broadly... and it is 
women and minorities who have risked their livelihoods and even their 
lives as they have engaged in over 250 years of activist work 
dedicated to building communities and nations that are free not only 
in principle, but in fact.  By refusing to acknowledge Ethnic Studies 
and Gender studies as essential top-level disciplinary categories, 
Sanger is attempting to roll back our progress towards freedom and 
equality, as conservatives everywhere have been trying to roll back 
all of our gains.

Frankly, I am embarrassed to have had anything to do with CZ and I 
will be publicly critiquing Sanger's policy in various venues. I hope 
that all supporters of race and gender studies will join with me in 
boycotting CZ, and with protesting Sanger's decision.

You can find more information on Citizendium at http://
www.citizendium.org.  Most of my discussions with Sanger took place 
on the Editors listserv, but there are a few on the Citizendium Forum 
pages:

http://forum.citizendium.org/index.php/topic,259.msg2165.html#msg2165
http://forum.citizendium.org/index.php/topic,251.msg2164.html#msg2164

Kali Tal
http://www.kalital.com

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Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2006 09:20:22 +0100
From: Florian Cramer <fc-nettime[at]plaintext.cc>
To: nettime-l[at]bbs.thing.net
Subject: Re: <nettime> Racism and Sexism at Citizendium

Am Dienstag, 28. November 2006 um 11:44:57 Uhr (-0700) schrieb Kali Tal:
> I am withdrawing from Citizendium because of the racist and sexist 
> policy put in place by Larry Sanger, who claims that the disciplines 
> of Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies do not belong in the list of top 
> level categories in Citizendium, or as individual categories at all.  
> Sanger has unilaterally decided that all race and gender topics 
> should be split up under traditional disciplinary headings, so that 
> there will be, for example, a sub-group of "African American 
> Literature," and "African American History," but no category -- at 
> any level -- in African American studies, and he embraces the same 
> tactic of fragmenting other Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies.  The 
> fact that his broad strokes of exclusion primarily effect women and 
> minority scholars does not seem to matter to him.

Two remarks:

- If one participates in a project that is structurally conservative (as
  an elitist, anti net-cultural counter-project to Wikipedia), it's
  hardly surprising if it's also structurally conservative in its
  content.  If there is a lesson to be learned for feminist, queer
  studies, African American studies etc. intellectuals, then the one
  that they should finally look beyond conservative academia and
  traditional publishing.  Wikipedia, in fact, is such an alternative,
  and would overcome much of its quality problems if more academics and
  intellectuals would bother to contribute to it. (That said, there also
  are amazingly good Wikipedia articles on philosophical and humanities
  topics.)

  It always struck me as odd that, for example, you need to attend
  expensive ivy league universities in order to study with the best
  scholars in that field, and that minority students at inexpensive
  state schools hardly have a chance of studying with reputed scholars
  in those fields. (Back in the 1990s, as an exchange student in the
  USA, I struck me - from my European point of view - as plainly obscene
  that self-declared Marxists taught at Duke University.)

- To have a conservative understanding of displicines is one thing,
  to be racist and sexist another. Many feminists, in fact, are opposed
  to disciplines like Women Studies because they consider them ghettos
  and find it more important to "hack", or rewrite, disciplines like
  literature and history altogether. But even as a conservative, Sanger
  shouldn't be called a racist unless he claimed that, for example,
  African American history didn't belong into Citizendium at all.

Florian

--
http://cramer.plaintext.cc:70
gopher://cramer.plaintext.cc


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