Amanda Knox – from villain to victim on Wikipedia

Counter narratives and controversial crimes: The Wikipedia article for the ‘Murder of Meredith Kercher’

From Language and Literature

With American defendant Amanda Knox once again facing trial by media – along with extradition – for Meredith Kercher’s murder, it seems timely to examine all sides of the story, and the people who tell it. Experts in language and story have gleaned valuable insight into how social media shapes narratives today by analysing Wikipedia editing archives of this case, including portrayals of villains and victims of the crime. Thanks to Wikipedia articles’ open-ended structure and multiple contributors, less dominant narratives are more likely to be told. This article lifts the lid on Wikipedia’s potential as a resource for narrative scholars.

Multiple versions of a story may be told – but that doesn’t mean we give them equal weight. One version will tend to become dominant, with marginal or less popular versions taking the role of counter narratives. Putting differing accounts of controversial events in context is important – the process of negotiation behind the text, not just its final contents, have their own story to tell. “Stories told in social media contexts are a particularly rich resource,” says the author, describing them as “burgeoning, public archives of interactions.”


Narrative theorists have long recognised that narrative is a selective mode of representation. There is always more than one way to tell a story, which may alter according to its teller, audience and the social or historical context in which the story is told. But multiple versions of the ‘same’ events are not always valued in the same way: some versions may become established as dominant accounts, whilst others may be marginalised or resist hegemony as counter narratives (Bamberg and Andrews, 2004). This essay explores the potential of Wikipedia as a site for positioning counter and dominant narratives. Through the analysis of linearity and tellership (Ochs and Capps, 2001) as exemplified through revisions of a particular article (‘Murder of Meredith Kercher’), I show how structural choices (open versus closed sequences) and tellership (single versus multiple narrators) function as mechanisms to prioritise different dominant narratives over time and across different cultural contexts. The case study points to the dynamic and relative nature of dominant and counter narratives. In the ‘Murder of Meredith Kercher’ article the counter narratives of the suspects’ guilt or innocence and their position as villains or victims depended on national context, and changed over time. The changes in the macro-social narratives are charted in the micro-linguistic analysis of structure, citations and quoted speech in four selected versions of the article, taken from the English and Italian Wikipedias.


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Article details

Ruth Page
Counter narratives and controversial crimes: The Wikipedia article for the ‘Murder of Meredith Kercher’
Language and Literature
February 2014 23: 61-76, doi:10.1177/0963947013510648

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