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Considered across the long reach of history, it is evident that the dominant formation of knowledge is becoming more abstract. More recently, this process has been super-charged by a changing culture of inquiry that puts a hyper-intensified emphasis on rational codified investigation with commodifiable outcomes. This is to argue that the dominant processes that frame knowledge formation are fundamentally changing, not that all the content of knowledge is necessarily becoming more abstracted or distanced from the object of inquiry. The key distinction here, for the purpose of our argument, is between form and content. To put it as precisely as is possible at this early stage in the exposition, the dominant form of knowledge production is becoming more abstract, even if the dominant content of knowledge follows a strangely contradictory path of an abstract obsession with technical application to 'concrete' outcomes. Content moves between an emphasis on 'innovative' knowledge that breaks with once taken-for-granted understandings (an outcome of the abstraction process) and an obsession with the application of that knowledge as a technical, practical and commodifiable act (what might be called a 're-concretization of pure research'). For example, the difference between the traditional-modern cataloguing of nature in Linnaeus's Systema Naturae (1735) and the late-modern mapping of the human genome provides an extraordinary but complicated comparison of different levels of abstraction. In one sense, they are both abstract taxonomies of nature, siblings in common purpose across the centuries attempting to organize our understanding of the relationship between things. Old Doctor Linnaeus is still with us as we survey the animal and plant kingdoms. However, in another sense, the historical shift from the dominance of the first taxonomy, based on details of what things look like, to the second, based on theories of the constitutive foundations of biological life, symbolizes an incredible change in the cultural frame. This difference is graphically signified by the gradual disappearance of the dominant metaphor of knowledge in Linnaeus's time--the now archaically concrete metaphor of the 'tree of knowledge'. Stark evidence that the nature of knowledge was changing across the course of the late-twentieth century was provided by the publication of two very different books. The first, by the American liberal-conservative and Harvard academic Daniel Bell, was called The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1976). It went into numerous reprints and, for at least a decade after its publication, became one of the most influential books in the social sciences. The cover of the Peregrine edition signalled the thesis of the book. It depicted an industrial green-painted brick wall carrying the graffiti 'Knowledge Rules, OK'. Playing off the contemporary phrase 'The Economy Rules, OK', the graffitied words suggested the continuing importance of the market in knowledge production, but it made the more startlingly original claim that the very nature of the market, indeed of social life in general, was being remade by codified knowledge itself. Knowledge was not only being increasingly commodified in an expanding market, it was becoming the axial principle of all market relations. Interestingly for our purposes, in his preface Bell saves his most fulsome note of gratitude for the non-university institution, the Russell Sage Foundation. (1)

Religion et spiritualité
22 mars
Arena Printing and Publications Pty. Ltd.

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