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Analytics of Knowledge

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Key Concept  Knowledge is a dynamic (rather than a thing) and it is: disseminated, strategic, contested, productive and in need of an analytics rather than a theory.

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Quote  "A dynamic understanding of knowledge may seem initially strange.  Whatever one wants to say about power, surely knowledge is something possessed by a knower, and transmitted or exchanged through communicative interaction.  Indeed the content of knowledge (both the propositions known, and the evidence and reasoning that warrant them as knowledge) may seem to be independent of particular embodiments in texts, utterances, or thoughts, and of the specific history through which those propositions came to be known.

"To understand scientific knowledge in this way, however, as an ideal, ahistorical content that a knower grasps or possesses, is to overlook the complex practical achievements through which scientific domains become accessible.  Only within such a complex practical field, shaped by the availability of functional and reliable equipment, and a variety of subtle technical and theoretical skills, do electrons, viruses, tectonic plates, or quasars become possible objects of knowledge or discourse.  Thus the propositions in which sovereign knowledge is supposedly expressed get their sense from a complex and heterogeneous field of practices and capabilities."

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"An epistemological dynamics takes these strategic alignments to be constitutive of knowledge.  Thus, knowledge is not a status that attaches to particular statements, skills, or models in isolation or instantaneously.  Rather, their epistemic standing depends upon their relations to many other practices and capabilities, and especially upon the ways these relations are reproduced, transformed, and extended.  Knowledge is temporally diffused or deferred; to take something as knowledge is to project its being taken up as a resource for various kinds of ongoing activity--whether in further research or in various applications of knowledge.  In this sense, the word 'applications' is somewhat misleading, since in the broadest sense we do not first gain knowledge, then apply it; something counts as knowledge only through the ways it is interpreted in use.

 

Knowledge in this sense circulates, and even the various points at which it is articulated, or even collected and assessed, are caught up in its circulation.  What is proposed as possible new knowledge, whether in informal discussion or initial publication, has an element of tentativeness about it.  What is gathered together in retrospective judgment is always oriented toward a further advance, and shaped by that projection.  What I would now conclude from my argument in Knowledge and Power and a subsequent paper is thus that there is no place where epistemic sovereignty is actually located.  The scientific literature itself is always continually reorganizing what is known as a resource for further investigation,; it is also always contested.  Yet philosophical attempts to stand outside or above the contested recycling of knowledge always verge upon irrelevance.  As I have argued elsewhere, if a judgment from a philosophical standpoint of supposed epistemic sovereignty were to conflict with the ways claims of knowledge are taken up and deployed in the course of research, it could be vindicated only within the contested strategic field in which claims of knowledge are transformed, reproduced, or left behind."

 

"I need to say more about this claim that scientific knowledge is always contested, the parallel to Foucault's insistence that power always confronts resistance.  Once it is recognized that knowledge exists only through its reproduction and circulation, the importance of conflict becomes evident: conflict focuses and directs that circulation.  Knowledge is developed in an agonistic field, and will typically be contested in very specific respects."

 

"Beyond Epistemic Sovereignty," Joseph Rouse, from  The Disunity of Science, Stanford University Press, 1996, pps. 406-409.

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Page updated 9/4/01