Very exciting news:  my dissertation improvement grant (well, to be technically correct, Arnout’s dissertation improvement grant) was ranked as “fundable” by the NSF! While this is actually “old” news to me — I received notification in January — I have finally received the official award letter from the NSF. Feels good to know that these dollars won’t be sequestered.

If anyone is interested, here is the research abstract:

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Group Diversity and Knowledge Production

Women’s historical absences from scientific endeavors and other institutions that create knowledge is also seen in the contemporary practice of online peer production. Recent survey research of contributors to Wikipedia, a prominent example of peer produced knowledge, has found that less than 15 percent of its contributors are women. The causes for this high degree of gender inequality have been linked to both self-selection and barriers to participation: we continue to imagine expertise in creating knowledge as a masculine pursuit, and women may buy into this belief as well, undermining their confidence in participating in online knowledge production. However, this gender gap has been shown to be more than simply self-selection: research suggests that some aspects of online participatory culture serve to limit women’s participation due to excessive conflict or contentiousness, devaluation of certain topics or perspectives, and in some instances, overt hostility or other forms of misogyny.

This raises several interesting questions about whether online realms are open to a diverse range of participants and whether they can ever truly represent “disembodied spaces” if participants’ socially-learned and embodied gender, and others’ perceptions thereof, accompany them into virtual spaces. One way that gender may continue to be salient is through presentation – in particular, whether contributors choose to publicly disclose their gender to others in an online community, which can affect how group members perceive one another and alter group interactions. A second way that gender may be salient is through socially-learned gender performances in terms of the roles people adopt and the types of work they perform.

In this research, I analyze the ways in which gender diversity affects the quality of work produced by contributors to Wikipedia. I use the quality of the information in Wikipedia’s encyclopedia articles as an indicator of the performance of the groups who author those articles. Organizational research has long known that diversity – in respect to group composition, the types of tasks being performed, and other group dynamics – affects a group’s performance and shapes its collective output. For example, the quality of work produced by Wikipedia contributors has been shown to vary by the functional diversity (differences in types of work roles performed) and cognitive diversity (differences in the knowledge bases) of group members. However, the potential interaction with gender not been explored in any detail, which is surprising since research on gender differences in online communication and interaction point to the need to incorporate gender more thoroughly into our conceptualization of the problem.

Studying the work of Wikipedia contributors provides an invaluable opportunity to assess how gender diversity, and the different ways of doing gender, affects group performance and shapes the quality of peer produced knowledge. Preliminary analysis of a subset of Wikipedia articles shows that gender diversity leads to favorable outcomes for article quality. The findings from this research will be of interest to gender scholars, organizational researchers, and others who study of online collaboration. More broadly, understanding why and when diversity can be beneficial to groups will be of practical relevance to the people who are building and working within these types of online organizations. Particularly, Wikipedia can take steps to shrink its gender gap by identifying and addressing barriers to inclusive participation from a diverse range of contributors.

This grant will ensure speedy completion of this chapter in my dissertation. I am very excited to be able to pursue this project with institutional support and recognition, because I have long argued that this topic requires attention from sociologists who care about new forms of gender inequality.

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