Imagine a world

This page is the summary of a PhD thesis on the Wikimedia movement written on French Wikiversity.

You can read its automatic translation on many languages from this page, and discuss or comment it on this talk page (Don't use the French talk page automatically translated, it doesn't work !)

PhD Student : Lionel Scheepmans

Discipline : Social and political Science

Promoter : Olivier Servais.

Accompanying board : Pierre-Joseph Laurent, Christophe Lazaro, Emmanuel Wathelet.

Institution : Laboratory of Prospective Anthropology / Institute of for the Analysis of Change in Contemporary and Historical Societies (LAAP/IACCHOS), Université catholique de Louvain.


In the shadow of the Wikipedia project, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in early 2021, a social movement has developed that is virtually unknown to the general public. It is called the "Wikimedia movement" and its vision is to build a world in which every human being can freely share the sum of all knowledge. Very little publicized, both by the press and by scientific literature, this movement brings together nearly a thousand websites and several hundred associations in more than 70 nations around the world. As a direct heir of the values and practices developed by the free software movement, it is moreover the only non-profit actor present in the top 50 of web traffic. As for the social movement itself, it appears as the global expression of a counter-culture that opposes market capitalism while challenging an elitist and globalized socio-political system.

Faced with this observation, the objective of this work is to make the Wikimedia movement visible and understandable to all in order to analyze the societal issues at stake. In order to do so, this socio-anthropological study is based on more than 10 years of participant observation completed by countless digital archives from the web. In an approach that is both historical and ethnographic, this study is part of a prospective anthropology whose ambition is to maintain a committed debate on the future of human societies. Its final objective is to better understand the global and digital society produced by the development of the Internet thanks to the synthetic reflection that the Wikimedia movement offers us.

After presenting the organizational complexity of the Wikimedia galaxy, this research first looks at everything that contributed to the birth of the movement. This is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the computing space, but also to rediscover within this "prehistory", the eternal opposition between, on the one hand, a desire for freedom, autonomy and equality and, on the other hand, a will for political control and privatization of wealth. The political, economic and technological issues are then addressed and highlight a kind of drift of the free sharing system as it was initially thought before being influenced by the tendencies external to the movement.

The actors of the movement are then presented in a statistical and descriptive way just before discovering the cultural particularities of the movement. On the theme of the imagination, it is then time to think about human society as a whole from the point of view of Wikimedia education and to conclude in a prospective way from the point of view of personal alternative experiences. A last chapter is dedicated to the methodological, ethical and epistemic questions raised by the realization of a written study within what is observed, and will be the place of a plea for a more inclusive and participative science.

(Translated with the help of free and

A report of an exploratory phase in Ghana from 1st to 20th September 2017 is also available on en.wikiversity