According to Peter Walsh (2003), knowledge production has historically been based on the expert paradigm in which bodies of knowledge are controlled by groups of experts.
The differentiation between interior and exterior, expert and layperson, producer and consumer, creates what Walsh (2003) called “knowledge hegemony” in which control over the creation and distribution of knowledge and information is monopolized in the hands of the few. However, advances in information technology – from the printing press to the World Wide Web– have led to the steady erosion of this hegemony in so far as they have allowed greater numbers of people to participate in knowledge production. The printing press, for example, undermined one of the key elements of the medieval Church’s knowledge hegemony: the control of book production and libraries. Mass publishing and the spread of literacy formed the basis the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution.
Today, the web is undermining the knowledge hegemony of a number of fields such as journalism, publishing, education, and museums. Echoing sentiments similar to those expressed by Benjamin in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936/1968), Walsh (2003) argued that loss of physical control over art, owing to new technological means of mass production and distribution, undermines the ability of museums to control what types of art are made accessible to the public, the context in which they are seen, and the types of discourses about them that are considered “appropriate”. The availability of easy to use digital technologies for reproducing, creating, and distributing content – artistic, literary, informational, or otherwise – has effectively weakened existing knowledge hegemonies by lowering the barriers to participation in knowledge production. Participatory cultures therefore produce a counter-hegemonic effect in so far as they “erode monopolistic positions held by professions, educational institutions, and experts, and they increase the diversity of perspectives on the way the world is and the way it could be”.