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The rise of the citizen curator : participation as curation on the web

O'Neill, Rebecca


Rebecca O'Neill


Toni Sant


From jazz clubs to cheese plates, the term curation has become a signifier of the growing need to organise and prioritise the seemingly endless possibilities of the digital sphere. The issue addressed here is in the associated meanings of the word curation and what it means to be a curator by examining the experience of the curatorial within a discrete context: the Irish curatorial landscape. The word curation comes from the Latin curare, to care for, and has long been associated with the professional duties of those selected as custodians for objects and knowledge deemed to be important to communities, nations, countries or even the world. However, as objects move from being purely physical to the digital, and knowledge changes from being transmitted through similarly physical media to digital formats that can be set free on the Web, what it means to curate has also changed. Curators are no longer necessarily identified as employed within museums or galleries; the word is now also applied to those who engage with and aid in the management and presentation of digital assets online. Curators have emerged in the online space much like their forerunners, bloggers or citizen journalists. We are now seeing the rise of citizen curators on the Web, which has not created these individually motivated curators, but has made their curatorial activities visible. Citizen journalists no longer need to have a printing press or publishing house to communicate with their audience; similarly, citizen curators do not need a private cabinet of curiosities or a job in a museum to allow them to curate or exhibit to an audience.

The aims of this research are threefold: to examine the current terminology related to curation by those who identify as curators or engage in curation in Ireland; to define what it means to be a curator or a citizen curator within the Irish context; and to investigate the changing nature of exhibition spaces contained in the Irish context in light of the Web and digital spaces. The study will take the form of an autoethnography, exploiting my unique position within the museum and open knowledge community in Ireland to examine current understandings of curation and the phenomenon of the citizen curator. The focus will be on my work within Wikimedia Community Ireland (WCI), a branch of the Wikimedia Foundation which promotes the use of Wikipedia in Ireland in education, culture, and open knowledge. As an autoethnographer, I can act as an intermediary, part way between those working in cultural organisations and the public involved in knowledge building projects. The study will look at how those engaged in curation articulate the work they do by means of interviews and participant observation. These sources will allow for the development of a spectrum of curatorial practice.

The spectrum will arise from the participants’ (both citizen curators and those working in Irish cultural institutions) own understanding and definitions of curation and what it means to curate. In placing these definitions of curation within a spectrum that takes in broader understandings of curatorial practice, the newer forms of digital curation, and a picture of how the citizen curator relates to these methods, will emerge. The disruptive effect which the digital, and in particular the concept of the Long Tail, has brought to bear upon understanding of the assembling, storing, and using of collections will be examined. It will answer many of the issues surrounding the discipline-specific definitions of curation and the curator while informing their relationship with each other. By drawing out curation into a spectrum, what unfolds is the movement of curation from a traditional and closed system of learnt practices, to one which is formed around more open and accessible conventions of curation. In identifying the citizen curator, their role in the larger curatorial debate can be acknowledged and better incorporated into the multitude of online curated projects. This hinges on the emergence of the Do It With Others ethos which pervades both online and offline creative communities, and it redefines curation from a solitary practice, to one which is demarcated by its participatory nature.


O'Neill, R. (2017). The rise of the citizen curator : participation as curation on the web. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 30, 2018
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Arts and new media
Public URL
Additional Information School of Drama, Music and Screen, The University of Hull
Award Date Oct 1, 2017


Thesis (1.9 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2017 O'Neill, Rebecca. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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