Neither a Bazaar nor a cathedral: The interplay between structure and agency in Wikipedia's role system

Ofer Arazy, Hila Lifshitz-Assaf, Adam Balila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Roles provide a key coordination mechanism in peer-production. Whereas one stream in the literature has focused on the structural responsibilities associated with roles, another has stressed the emergent nature of work. To date, these streams have proceeded largely in parallel. In seeking to enhance our understanding of the tension between structure and agency in peer-production, we investigated the interplay between structural and emergent roles. Our study explored the breadth of structural roles in Wikipedia (English version) and their linkage to various forms of activities. Our analyses show that despite the latitude in selecting their mode of participation, participants' structural and emergent roles are tightly coupled. Our discussion highlights that: (a) participants often stay close to the “production ground floor” despite the assignment into structural roles; and (b) there are typical modifications in activity patterns associated with role-assignment, namely: functional specialization, multispecialization, defunctionalization, changes in communication patterns, management of identity, and role definition. We contribute to theory of coordination and roles, as well as provide some practical implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Association for Information Science and Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 ASIS&T

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


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