Writing this blog has been an interesting experience. Some people like what I write, and some don’t. What I have come to realize, however, is that the people who are the most strongly opposed to what I write here tend to be people whom I would call “gatekeepers” (người giữ cửa).
In the academic sense, “gatekeepers” are people who control access to knowledge. They also might be people who control access to careers in the academic world.
For instance, in the second half of the twentieth century in (North) Vietnam, there were four scholars who played this first role with regards to knowledge about Vietnamese history: Đinh Xuân Lâm, Phan Huy Lê, Hà Văn Tấn and Trần Quốc Vượng.
If you wanted to know about the Vietnamese past, you had to pass through one of the gates that each of these men guarded. They interpreted the past for (virtually) everyone else, and if you wanted to understand the past, you had access it through their respective interpretations/gates.
Certain laws can also contribute to “gatekeeping.” In the case of Thailand, for example, the lèse-majesté law goes a long way towards guarding a gate concerning knowledge about the monarchy. And in Indonesia, the restrictions on free expression during the New Order period (1965-1998) also guarded the gate to knowledge about the past.
So while this effort to guard access to knowledge has historically been very strong, the Internet has made it difficult to keep guarding those gates. Now people can access information that comes from multiple sources, not just from gatekeepers.
In addition, the rapid increase in recent years in the number of people who study abroad also works against the efforts of gatekeepers, because when students go to a foreign country, they might find that the scholars there don’t agree with (or don’t even know anything about or care about) the gatekeepers in the country that the student comes from.
So how do you maintain a gate in such a world? And is doing so even desirable?
Ironically, at the same time that it is getting more difficult for gatekeepers to maintain their personal dominance, Wikipedia is popularizing their ideas.
Studies have been done in the US that show that the average person who writes a Wikipedia page is a white male in his late teens or early 20s (the exact type of person who would follow the [conservative] ideas of a gatekeeper). So basically all of human knowledge (on Wikipedia) in English at the moment is now being created by young white guys who support the ideas of gatekeepers. . .
Having realized this, there are now people in the US who are starting efforts to “rewrite” Wikipedia entries by getting people who have different perspectives to contribute.
It will be interesting to see where this all ends up.
What I think all of this shows, however, is that the idea that academic knowledge is something that a privileged few control through the gates that they guard is one that is going to be harder and harder to maintain in the years ahead.
So if you are a gatekeeper of knowledge, what do you do? Should you give up the gate and try to survive in a world in which the production of knowledge is being democratized? Should you keep guarding your gate in a world in which gates are increasingly coming under attack and being marginalized?
Or maybe there are other options?