Knowledge-Action and Knowledge-Institutions

Knowledge. Such a weighty, unmoving word. We think we know what it means, where in fact there is no certainty there at all. What knowledge signifies is the appearance of a solidity made possible by so much motion behind the scenes. For knowledge to exist it must be continuously created through research, maintained through education, applied through innovation. A fair amount of work has already been done on disinterring exactly what is going on, socially speaking, when knowledge is created and when it is maintained through teaching-learning. But what exactly is going on when knowledge is applied to the world? There is less clarity here, nor even any unanimity that the name for this process should be ‘innovation.’

Let’s drill deeper down into the matter. As we’ve maintained for a while now, the basis for any acts of innovation or design must be human intentionality: the making of light scratch marks upon a stone surface with another stone is enough for us to discern the emergence of intentionality. But the structuration of that intention arises through understanding, conceptualization, discernment, and all the other building blocks of what we can collectively term knowledge. One cannot have very complex or variegated intentions without knowledge. And so one’s impact on the world at large, including on other people and on social structures is all determined the the quality, character, depth, and architecture of one’s knowledge.

So I hope you are with me when I offer this provisional and tripartite formulation: knowledge is created through research, maintained through teaching-learning, and applied in changing the world. If any one of these three stages breaks, knowledge fails and becomes something else — a historical legacy from the past, a literary curiosity, a cultural artifact of some kind. Of these three forms of knowledge-action, moreover, it is the last one which seems most critical and most quickly liable to be broken or compromised, for it is when forms of knowledge lose their world-making power that they become reduced to theology, ideology and other such forms of consciousness. Still taught, still organizing research programs, they are nevertheless no longer directly linked to human intentionality but only tangentially, secondarily, as a vain attempt to perpetuate the social community that had once been anchored by that former and failed form of knowledge.

Notice too that most knowledge institutions in the world are dedicated to the first and second types of knowledge action: research and education. Some modern universities are had begun in the second half of the twentieth century to take seriously the question of innovation, but in no case do we encounter an institutional type founded on innovation first, undertaking those other two forms of knowledge action in order to support this primary purpose. Rather, we see only major innovation corporations Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and a few other, smaller entities, who seem to operate in this way. And yet, their stated purpose is profit for their shareholders and not the furtherance of knowledge-impact on society. Still, it would appear the the institutional paradigms of the future will resemble these organizations more closely than the monasteries and campus-towns of universities past.

But we have yet to envision this kind of knowledge institution clearly and distinctly. It must be focussed on the many ways in which change is brought to the world. It must engage the world directly through every new form of media, it must be the very lattice through which these new thoughts and reactions, diverse interactions, affirmations, collaborations, programmatic actions come to be organized. It must be light and distributed, transacting subtly with industry and society, forming and shaping the collective wisdom that sets the agenda for governance. That future world wide web of ideas, thoughts and actions, will be a global knowledge institution founded in innovation.


This entry was posted in Design!publiC and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Knowledge-Action and Knowledge-Institutions

  1. Gabriel says:

    And to your point…these blog posts about what it means to work and create at Amazon and Google (which are now over a year old), are from an employee. They help demonstrate exactly what it means to be innovative, how behind the scenes knowledge develops, and how insights shared with public can be critical for making inroads. But critically, they discuss the relationship between organizational change and technology. And that’s the point. *note: they are long reads
    and the follow up

  2. Divya Datta says:

    Interesting and complex as always Aditya! Agree with your tripartite argument of creation, maintenance and application. Another trail of thought leads me to believe that the world today is a result of knowledges that were perceived significant and prioritized over others. And of-course this can be both good and not so good, but is definitely consequential to theory of how knowledge shapes values and change that maybe undesired sometimes. So then what kinds of moral decisioning frameworks do we need to discern what knowledges merit world shaping leverage and how does this truly materialize?

  3. you know, @divya, i don’t think this is all that complex. there are some very simple heuristics that have emerged over the years such as: do no harm, be a good samaritan, pyase ko pani do iti nitya karma and so forth, which can provide a moral framework for individual action. more complex is what kinds of rules should govern institutional or collective action. for this we have seen the evolution of institutional review boards protecting the rights of human subjects in the course of social research. this kind of approach, when expanded to govern non-research action including design, design-deployment, distribution and so forth can serve to bring an expressed ethical framework to bear on organized action.

    people talk about unintended consequences, but this is naive to me. that line of thinking assumes that you leave the field after you have brought your product to the market. but you don’t. you’re always around to take the heat or the benefits of your innovation. so where unintended consequences arise, you adjust your action accordingly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *