Introduction to the Special Issue: Science, Knowledge and Society

Author(s): Thorolfur Thorlindsson and Runar Vilhjalmsson
Source: Acta Sociologica, Vol. 46, No. 2, The Knowledge Society (Jun., 2003), pp. 99-105
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
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Furthermore. as science becomes an important part of political debate and economic policy. 'knowledge workers' and 'intellectual capital'. However. emphasizing the skills and expertise of workers. 034821 New Delhi: www. there is neither consensus nor clarity about its meaning. Knowledge work and knowledge management within the new knowledge organizations imply continuous knowledge production and revision of existing knowledge. science. information society. The concept of knowledge society rejects a linear view of science from basic to applied. The production of knowledge is not limited to higher education and academic research settings. the transformation of information and biotechnology. and large-scale cultural influences. A central source of ambiguity is 'knowledge' itself. nature and Vol 46(2): 99-105[0001-6993](200306)46:2.. The status and authority of experts in the knowledge-based society is neither automatic nor self-evident. or legal challenge. have given rise to a society that is not easily captured by a single sociological theory. The boundaries between private and public.The maintenance of expert status and control requires legitimation and validation displays to fight off public disinterest and scepticism. are increasingly challenged by scientific and technical advances. the notion of the autonomy of science is under increasing attack. channel its course. and control the social and economic consequences of its findings (Nowotny et al. It has been referred to variously as post-industrial society.Thousand Oaks. it portrays science as a complex nonlinear process where social forces intervene at any stage. But it is also increasingly influenced by social. innovation and expertise are the moving forces of economic and social development. Societal forces outside academia attempt to gain control over science. KEYWORDS: expert knowledge. shape its nature. network society and risk society. The implications of recent scientific and technological developments for public welfare seem to indicate that the knowledge society and the welfare state can coexist in a mutually supportive relationship. Despite the importance of science and technology. mundane and tacit forms of knowledge are still crucial. Knowledgeand Society Thorolfur Thorlindsson and Runar Vilhjalmsson University of Iceland ABSTRACT Our changing times provide numerous opportunities for interesting research into different aspect of the knowledge-based society. Technological products or tools embody knowledge and mediate it at the same time. 2001). economic and political forces shaping its direction and controlling its applications. Instead. tacit knowledge.ACTASOCIOLOGICA 2003 m Introductionto the SpecialIssue: Science. post-modern society. Creating and disseminating knowledge by means of such tools is problematic in many ways. although the tools tend to be taken for granted as objective and neutral. knowledge society. welfare state These are times of vast social change. it is safe to say that the concept is not well developed. Science is becoming a powerful institution influencing people's daily lives in various ways. Processes of globalization. far-reaching economic interconnections. nor identified by one sociological label. Although its importance is stressed in every definition. 'knowledge management'. . CA and 99-105. The label 'knowledge society' is rooted in the belief that science.sagepublications. Contemporary society contains all Acta SociologicaCopyright? 2003 Scandinavian Sociological Association and SAGEPublications (London. knowledge society. It is backed up by increasingly popular buzzwords such as 'knowledge organizations'.

medical doctors. science and technology had reshaped industrial processes and workplaces. science and technology within sociology. differentiated and somewhat removed from other social institutions and ideally free from outside social influences. science has been considered an esoteric activity. practical and powerful. where the focus was on religion. Through most of its history. science is increasingly contextualized. The discipline of sociology has long considered science and technology to be important to social structure and change. lawyers and similar experts. the prestige of science. magic. In this narrower sense. economic and political forces that shape the direction of scientific activity and grasp control over its applications. and the parent's knowledge about children and how to raise them. have contributed to making it a powerful social institution. the drug dealer'sknowledge of markets and means of buying and selling drugs. however. codified knowledge.following its own logic and rules. science and technology to different realms of study within sociology. Science was incorporated into academia in the 19th century when it became intertwined with other aspects of advanced scholarship and teaching. psychologists. Its relationship to science and technology is meant to set it apart from other. more or less isolated from the rest of society. 1994.. Science. but encouraged a division between sociologists that studied these phenomena as characteristics of social structure and those that . criticized and built upon by peers of different nationalities. Research findings are published in international outlets where they are evaluated. and more of a transgressive system with fluid and porous boundaries (Gibbons et al. tended to view science as a special domain. Today. as well as professional knowledge. and the view that it is the best means to produce reliable knowledge.this view reflectedthe separation of the scientific subsystem from the rest of society. collegial organizational arrangements have evolved over a long time. These scientific. 2001).science and its products influence people's daily lives to the extent that some scholars have come to view science as the main defining characteristic of contemporary societies (Nowotny et al.. Initially. and even language. as well as social patterns. Bell emphasized the role of theoretical knowledge and innovation for post-industrial society. acquired by formal credentials of university-educated professionals. According to Bell. 2001). A number of scholars have followed in Bell's footsteps. especially Durkheim and Weber. and give competitive edge in individual and economic strife. It has. Science in the knowledge society Modern science arose as a social institution in Western Europe in the 17th century. local and universal knowledge... believed that science was an objective system of knowledge that could have its own societal effects. This early historical development had several important consequences for the treatment of knowledge. influenced by social. 2001). namely scientific knowledge. Daniel Bell's (19 73) classic discussion of the coming of post-industrial society clearly foreshadows the wider discussion of the knowledge society. Although the definition of 'knowledge society' can include all these different kinds of knowledge. First. knowledge is supposed to be reliable and even true. has been characterized by its international way of organizing things. Interestingly. putting an even stronger emphasis on the production and application of scientific knowledge as a central feature of social organization and economic success (Nowotny et al. The classical sociologists. produced and certified by scientists. carried out by individuals belonging to an elite. the fisherman's knowledge of sea currents and behaviours of different species of fish. science becomes less of a demarcated subsystem of society. This view of science has changed dramaticallyin the past decades in two important ways.100 ACTASOCIOLOGICA46(2) sorts of knowledge. There is the auto mechanic's knowledge of car engines and brake systems. Some is developed by various communities of workers in their worlds of everyday work. there is a strong tendency to focus on the most prestigious or credible kinds. Second. Nowotny et al. In the process. scientific knowledge was not included in the early development of sociology of knowledge. from the beginning of its institutionalization. Some is developed in scientific settings and published in scientific journals scrutinized by scientific peers. demands for innovation. tacit knowledge. It set the stage for a division of labour that not only allocated the treatment of knowledge.e. There is common-sense knowledge. enjoying continuous expansion and almost unmatched success. more ordinary forms of knowledge. i. war and politics. such as engineers.

Bertilsson further notes that advances in biomedical science and technology go hand in hand with increased cultural individualism and globalization. whether involving surrogate motherhood. as Bertilsson describes. Current information technology (IT) enables mass assembly and processing of information about individuals to serve the interests and goals of firms. Bertilsson calls for nothing less than a renewed. is a serious drawback in the development of the discipline (Collins. it is unclear where new lines should be drawn or how consensus could be reached. the possibilities offered involve choices that cross traditional demarcation lines between nature and society. As knowledge and science play a crucial role in the organization of contemporary society. The use of tools to produce standard mechanical representations having taken-forgranted meanings facilitates work coordination and reduces costs in collaboration across . In such cases. consecrated demarcation between nature and society. This is vividly exemplified by 'biocommunities' . diabetics). In these instances. especially at the early stages when the meaning of the data they generate is unclear. 1994. nature and society. and attention focuses on the 'facts' they produce. culture invades nature in new areas with unforeseen consequences. Bertilsson's article cogently describes important unresolved social and ethical problems associated with the rapid scientific and technological developments of recent years. The connection with individualism is evidenced by the fact that the transgression of the nature-society boundary often takes the form of individual choice or right (e. Hage. and others.g. knowledge dissemination and expertise. Vilhjalmsson and Thorlindsson. the choices individuals make are frequently pitted against communal or societal interests aiming to uphold traditional demarcations. the invasion of culture into nature also means that culture is increasingly occupied by nature. it is appropriateto consider how the subfields of sociology that deal with knowledge and science can contribute to enhanced understanding of the emerging social organization of a knowledge-based society. Technology as medium of scientific knowledge The article by Thurk and Fine (2003) explores the production and dissemination/sharing of new scientific knowledge. Thora Margareta Bertilsson (2003) explores some of these challenges in her article in this issue. 1986. a 62year-old French woman's wish to become a surrogate mother to her brother's child). Scientific statements rest on 'data' generated by tools.they recede into the background as being irrelevant. Several authors have argued that the differentiation of sociology into subfields.without the necessary integration into general sociology. there is a mutually constitutive relationship between technology and knowledge. Bio-science and the nature-society demarcation Rapid scientific and technological developments in recent years pose serious challenges to traditional boundaries between the private and the public. Scientific and technical advances are also linked to processes of globalization. The possibilities and realities of encroachment by outside agents into private lives have resulted in public debates in the West about the proper governmental and business applications of IT. But.individuals bound together in interest groups by a common biological fate or some biomedical opportunities (e. This is not an unfamiliar development within sociology. The authors furthermore point out that the dissemination and sharing of scientific information increasingly takes place through the medium of various technologies across time and space. But the tools continue to be fundamental to the facts. technology 'embodies' knowledge. AIDS patients. As the authors note. In this thematic issue of Acta Sociologica. welfare state.we have asked distinguished sociologists of knowledge and science to contribute to the sociology of the knowledge society from the different vantage points of culture. the genetic selection of offspring. sex or race change operations. 2002). Although her call is timely. Concerned about these developments. If the tools are accepted and stabilized. or cloning. as evidenced by individuals making 'biological' choices by moving or travelling from a state where a procedure or treatment is banned to one where it is legal. In other words. its restrictions and possibilities.g.Thorlindssonand Vilhjalmsson:Introductionto the SpecialIssue 101 considered them to be subject matters in their own right. Such tools are sometimes the focus of attention and debate among scientists. As she points out. Another major example of boundary challenges involves biomedical science and technology. but also mediates it. rather than through face-to-face interaction. organizations and states.

The meteorologists at the Weather Service acknowledged that the new forecasting system facilitated the sharing of weather information both internally and externally. note that there are two kinds of imagined lay persons . He points out that a Scandinavian model is founded on open. they had concerns about the meaning of forecasts (forecast texts were now produced by computers). Maranta et al. As the authors note. As Maranta et al. as well as their own professional autonomy (they no longer wrote the forecasts in their own words). especially because it enabled them to coordinate their work with engineers in a standardizedform. largely raw materials-based economies. 'voices' are raised.those addressed by experts to produce loyalty. But such representations are by no means without problems. This divide and asymmetry contributes to the authority of experts. as it focuses primarilyon the expert. and the degree to which knowledge is shared. Of course. a new strategy was implemented . However. The first kind is addressed in science centres using 'information objects' to provide one-way information from expert to lay person concerning how scientists do research and what they have found. But AutoCAD also supports customization. a computer-aided design program. experts are (increasingly) called upon to provide expertise by gathering scientifically sound information. and universal access to tax-financed social services and insurance. others with professional autonomy and control. But experts are faced with a dilemma: while preserving the asymmetry. They note that in a knowledge society. Some of these problems have to do with interpretation and meaning. the amount of knowledge organizationally 'memorized'. expertise can be successful or it can fail in its bridge-building. it hampered professional and interorganizational exchange and cooperation. Thurk and Fine go on to present the results of ethnographic studies of the use of scientific tools in two organizational settings. The welfare state and the knowledge-based economy An interesting avenue of research concerns the implications of an increasingly global. and providing guidance in a world entangled with technologies. making recommendations based on the information. The second study concerned the use of a new technological system for producing wreather forecasts (the IFPSsystem) at three offices of the US National Weather Service.102 ACTASOCIOLOGICA 46(2) organizations. there exists an 'epistemic divide' between experts and lay persons. allowing organizational cultures to appropriate the technology and develop in-house standards and symbols. The expert-lay-person relationship The article by Maranta. they underscore that communication of knowledge within and across organizations by means of tools is problematic even though the tools are frequently taken for granted. Nevertheless. note. while customization fostered professional and organizational autonomy. or can such a model survive? In his article in this issue. Maranta et al. knowledge-based economy for the welfare state. In lieu of direct face-to-face exchange. Does national competitiveness of industries and services require the dismantling of the Scandinavian-style welfare state model. In Finland. by architects in an architectural practice in Chicago. it shows how expertise is staged and expert status maintained through interest and loyalty of (imagined) lay persons. and the experts use 'classifying objects' to frame a structured environment for the lay person. Gislerand Pohl (2003) focuses on important aspects of the relationship between experts and lay persons. In so doing. or legal powers are mustered against the expertise. In an interesting way. and those of whom loyalty is presupposed. with highly coordinated labour markets and economies. Mats Benner (2003) presents an analysis of Scandinavian responses to the recent economic challenges. Thurk and Fine demonstrate how scientific tools affect the form of knowledge that is being transmitted. Guggenheim.'s account is not the only story on the expert-lay-person relationship. the experts construct conceptions of imagined lay persons that in turn influence the ways in which socially robust knowledge is presented for application. This created tension because. The architects were generally happy about creating their drawings with AutoCAD. following an economic crisis in the 1990s.It succeeds when it elicits curiosity and gains loyalty. The second kind of imagined lay person is addressed in social settings where individuals are approached as aggregates. they have to connect with the public. The first study considered the use of AutoCAD. It fails when lay persons 'exit'. by formulating their advice so that lay persons can apprehend and use it.

Furthermore. evaluating the arguments. the country still remains an 'innovation laggard' with small hi-tech sectors. In short. and even strengthen it in certain areas. and commitment to employment. Due to industrial (especially oil industry) stability. in a period marked by stagnant growth in Europe. and provided the economy with collective goods. The country has many knowledge-intensive multinational firms and a highly productive research system. Where do knowledge producers and knowledge users come from. oil. knowledgebased economy. the Finnish welfare system became less generous. Following an economic crisis in the early 1990s. because it has implemented wage restraint programmes. an activist labour market policy. a semi-centralizedwage bargaining system was introduced. has survived the challenges posed by scientific and technological developments and globalization trends. Despite reduced welfare commitments. alongside growing middle. 1979). welfare states need to abandon prior commitments to full employment. and limited investment in research and development. a tax-based welfare model of social insurance and services has been preserved. reduce social insurance. One concerns stratification. By reviewing the literature. and wage increases kept at levels similar to Norway's trading partners. a network-orientedindustrial policy. and presenting new data. but it did not radically retrench. Norway has managed to keep the welfare model intact. Benner argues that Sweden has retained the fundamentals of the welfare state in terms of tax-financed social insurance and services. the Scandinavian countries have managed to adapt to the demands of a new economy. In Benner's estimation. the four articles published in this issue of Acta Sociologica demonstrate how understanding of the nature and implications of the knowledge society can be advanced in different directions. A review of the sociological literature indicates that several important issues are still insufficiently tackled. most important. depending on people's income and education (Linket al. with a strong emphasis on middle-high technology sectors. semi-centralized wage bargain- ing system. But there is obviously more to be said about the knowledge society. Finally. that are largely raw materials-basedand export oriented. organized labour markets. Benner concludes that the Scandinavian employment and welfare model.Denmark'seconomy has been characterizedby a large number of small. However. To further stabilize the future economic base. 199 8).Thorlindssonand Vilhjalmsson:Introductionto the SpecialIssue 103 based on three pillars: a political consensus to upgrade scientific and technological capabilities. particularly from the corporate side. political emphasis has shifted towards developing broader technological and scientific capabilities and reinforcing the Norwegian innovation system.and high-technology sectors and R&Dinvestments. scientific and expert knowledge is differentiallyreceived and utilized. Sweden has the most highly innovative and knowledge-intensive economy of the Scandinavian countries.. in large part through credential barriers (Collins. According to Benner.These enterprises are integrated into various industrial networks. and how do knowledge-systems produce and reproduce inequalities between social strata? Research already shows that contemporary educational systems reproduce socioeconomic inequalities. characterized by tax-financed social services. what are their interests. although it does not have a coherent science and technology policy. and the maintenance of a relatively generous social insurance system to absorb the consequences of the economic crisis. In contrast to Finland. generous social insurance. the Danish economy has developedfromdepressionto a 'flourishing model' thanks to a non-accommodating financial policy. Again. position and resources? How do the specialized knowledge haves and have-nots fare in an increasingly knowledge-based society. and universal health and social services. social insurance. Norway has followed a traditional industrial growth paradigm with strongholds in shipbuilding. and cut social and health service expenditures. Wage negotiations are now conducted at the industry level. Thus. delivered social stability in volatile markets. transport/shipping and. a commitment from labour market parties to wage restraint through centralized bargaining. and a science and technology policy to create scientificconcentration and knowledge flows in the economy. and policies enacted to reduce unemployment through training programmes. Benner's arguments and conclusions thus rather forcefully refute the notion that in order to survive in a 'global economy'. 'Social democratic corporatism' has succeeded in an increasingly global. and how do they appropriate knowledge to further their cause.and mediumsized enterprises. Another issue pertains to the overemphasis on scientific knowledge at the .

Finally. C. all too often. Here. pictures and video clips.g. organizations and places. Innovations occur in different areas. found and. engineering and computer technology. What is new is tirelessly sought. He reminds us that formally trained scientists. M. R. who travel frequently between states or continents. (2003) 'The Social as Trans-genic: On Biopower and its Implications for the Social'.e.. Fine's (1992) analysis of culinary work. Acta Sociologica 45(1): 7-22. Thus Harper's (1987) portrait of Willie. Yet. AmericanJournal of Sociology 91: 13 36-5 5. such as a nation state. References Bell. Furthermore. T. In addition to making phone calls to their relatives and friends.104 ACTASOCIOLOGICA46(2) expense of other continually (and perhaps increasingly) important forms of knowledge. Fine. Collins. Fligstein. Acta Sociologica 46(2): 132-49. economic stakes increase for experts and lay workers alike. One of the leading theorists to promote the concept of the knowledge society argues against such a conclusion (Stehr. individuals leaving the cultural setting they are accustomed to. D. means. more drastically. The challenge facing the serious analyst of the 'knowledge society' is to consider both stability and change in a balanced account of how and why some societal and cultural aspects are changing. M. or resourcefulness to do so. the 'globalization stories' often told by economic and post-modern sociologists are challenged by the fact that world trade only accounts for 17 per cent of world economic activity. Collins. engineers and computer specialists comprise only a small fraction of the total labour force in contemporary society. G. Forthe subsection of businessmen. Much of the literature on the knowledge society . N. (1994) The New Production of Knowledge:T1e Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies. or academics. EU).) Formal Thleory in Sociology: .. M. 1994). they can send and receive emails with text. Nowotny. or. F. New York: Basic Books. It can be argued that the production and application of work-based knowledge has always been a moving force in the economy. 2002). London: Sage. bureaucrats. and Trow. the averageJohn and Mary in any Western country still derive their identity of self and outlook on life first from their family and close kin. in J. then from other network ties and work. (1986) 'Is 1980s Sociology in the Doldrums?'.or the entire world. P. Benner. ( 19 79) TheCredentialSociety: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. J. Western European firms trading with each other within the EuropeanUnion (EU)(Fligstein and Merand. As demands for cutting costs and developing new products and services grow. Hage. and Politicized'. and Thorlindsson's (1994) analysis of the skipper. Bertilsson. Not everyone of course would have the interest. all emphasize the role which skill and workmanship play in the creative work process. at the individual level. One of the questions that need to be asked is whether recent economic developments de-emphasize this type of knowledge-work in favour of professional work based on formal training in science.. there is need for serious analysis of stabilitiesas well as change in contemporary Western society. then their local community. and Merand. but much less from larger and more remote entities. that Western European trade constitutes the lion's share of global foreign trade. notice should be tak-enof the fact that the industrial and service sectors of the modern era are still the backbone of most Western economies. R. Acta Sociologica 46(2): 118-31. Furthermore. and that limiting the contribution of education to professionals and scientific experts is simply too narrow a view. undermined by a novelty bias. stretched to the point of overemphasis and exaggeration. Fragmented. (1994) 'Sociological Theory: Complex. Schwartzman. Hage (ed. (2002) 'Globalization or Europeanization? Evidence on the European Economy Since 1980'. A.and postmodernity more generally .a whole region (e. on a related note. H. can in important ways 'remain' within this setting. and listen to the local/national radio and TV via an internet media player or a personal satellite disc. A growing body of sociological research attempts to highlight the creative and innovative skillbased aspects of work. and regularly expose themselves to the international media. M. i. (1992) 'The Culture of Production: Aesthetic Choices and Constraints in Culinary Work'. despite geographic distances. S. The concept of 'knowledge society' should not limit the production and application of knowledge to formal science. and that increase in foreign trade in recent years mostly concerns Europeanization. Scott. New York: Academic Press. (1973) The Coming of Post-industrial Society. self-definitions and outlooks may be more globalized. the all-around craftsman.. (2003) 'The Scandinavian Challenge: The Future of Advanced Welfare States in the Knowledge Economy'. precisely because of technological developments. while others remain much the same. American Journal of Sociology 97: 1268-94. but they can also instantly read the local or national papers of their community or country over the internet. Limoges.

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