Toward a Wikipedia of Sociology

Every few years one gets a request from the editor of an encyclopedia of social theory or globalization or social research.  Some publisher has succumbed to the idea that a new compendium is needed and some senior scholar has succumbed to the idea that “the time has come….”  Or, some senior scholar has managed to cajole some junior scholar into doing most of the work on a project that will bear the senior scholar’s name.  OK, that last might be a little harsh.  What’s next is someone conjures up a list of usual suspects (or, more likely, a series of database searches produces such a list).  Then someone sets up a content management system and an editor at the publisher solicits articles on behalf of the senior scholar editor — usually with promise of a complimentary copy of the finished volume(s) as an honorarium

I wonder, though, if the days of this genre are numbered.  Would it not make sense to create an encyclopedia of sociology for and by card-carrying sociologists?  Mightn’t crowd-sourcing disciplinary knowledge be superior to the limited intellectual resources represented by centrally selected article authors and the limited review of a small handful of editors?  I mean, the typical encyclopedia article probably has fewer peer reviews than most articles get.

What if a professional association opened up a wiki with a single restriction: you have to be a member to edit and you have to edit under your own identity.  Beyond that, no central control.

To be realistic, this is probably much more openness and flexibility than most professional associations could ever tolerate.  There’d have to be a committee of members and probably a report to the executive committee or something like that that would turn the endeavor into as close a clone of the traditional encyclopedia as possible.

So, maybe what has to happen is that the project has to start with a small group of renegades.  And so, just by way of testing the waters, that’s what I am proposing.

You sociologists out there, are you game?

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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