Saturday, 17 November 2007

Knowledge in a computerised society: Lyotard part 1

One of the things I've been doing is trying to get something resembling a grip (rather than a vague idea) of Lyotard and how that might work with my project. Naturally, since the project is also only emerging, the links are a little fliud. And in this heat, so is my brain. However, it is time for the bits of paper I've stuck up on the loungeroom wall to come down, so this is where they are going. I bold words so they stand out to me on the wall and wanky as it may sound, I find they start to sink in a little subliminally until I have one of those ah-ha moments (I think this is a learning-with-no-time strategy). I'll do it here too, not sure if they'll have the same effect. It can be an experiment.

Right. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. This is part 1, knowledge in a computerised society.

It [HE knowledge] can fit into the new channels, and become operational, only if learning is translated into quantities of information...knowledge that is not translatable in this way will be abandoned...

...
Along with the hegemony of computers comes a certain logic and therefore a certain set of prescriptions determining which statements are accepted as 'knowledge' statements.
(P. 4)

Basically, what we find acceptable as knowledge has changed because a computerised society tends to 'informationalise' - a little like chunking, but also impacts the way we expect to be able to retrieve information and use even non-digital tools etc. A change to what is allowed to be knowledge is obviously significant and worth tracing historically.

We may thus expect a thorough exteriorisation of knowledge with respect to the "knower" at whatever point he or she may occupy in the knowledge process.
So, in our knowledge-machine, the individual does not matter, but the role does. Sounds like HR.

The old priciple that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from...individuals, is becoming obsolete.
There is a reason for this...

The relationship of the suppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and use is now tending...to assume the form already taken by the relationship of commodity producers and consumers to the commodities.
If knowledge is to be commodified in the type of mechanised structure imagined, it must be separable from the knower so that it can systematised (or informationalised, in this case).

Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold and it will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its "use-value".
(pp. 4-5)
This is just describing the process of commodification as Marx did, as it applies to knowledge. I always have to remind myself about use-value and to do this I keep a stupid image of a hammer in my head: a hammer costs, I dunno, $5 - its exchange value. But if you were a builder, through use that hammer would produce value that far exceeds what the damn thing costs. And (to put it a little clumsily) this is its "inherent" value (so if there was no money in the world at all, it would still be worth this). Commodification's key characteristic is to declare that this use-value has no value and that it is only "worth" what you could sell it for - since the system is based on exchange.

We know all this. But when it applies to knowledge, things change that perhaps we did not expect:
...knowledge has become the priciple force of production...

Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major - perhaps the major - stake in the worldwide competition for power.
(p.5)
This forms what has become known as the knowledge-economy, in which knowledge (rather than labour) underpins productivity. Naturally, where knowledge is commodified, this changes the role of learning:
It is not hard to visualise learning circulating along the same lined as money...the pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and ignorance, but rather, as is the case with money, between "payment knowledge" and "investment knowledge".
This then changes the role of higher education and the state:

The notion that learning falls within the purview of the State, as the brain or mind of society, will become more and more outdated with the increasing strength of the opposing principle, according to which society exists and progresses only if the messages circulating within it are rich in information and easy to decode.
[p.6]

So we have both a change to the structure of society, repositioning the state from the "brain" role it had previously and a change to the nature and role of knowledge, in which the exchange of knowledge, rather than the decisions of the state, drive progress. One might expect this to be both good and bad news to Higher Education: 'bad', in that funding would fall with the state's lack of involvement (yes...though maybe not everywhere) and 'good' in that Universities could, perhaps, have a central role given their role in knowledge production and dissemination. But the character, not just the role of knowledge has also changed, which may well be the key to Universities' lack of success in really doing well out of this set-up (if it is true).

And it could potentially be a problem for the legitimacy and relevance of the state:
...communicational "transparency", which goes hand in hand with the commercialisation of knowledge will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and "noise".
[p.5]
Transparency has so many meanings I am not 100% sure of this one, but suspect it might just be a straightforward transparent communication as business talks about it (experts, please correct me) in which we can imagine a State that was actually interested in knowledge would actually get in the way of a knowledge free-market.

Overall, 30 years ago, Lyotard took the idea of commodified knowledge, knowledge capital and a knowledge economy and extrapolated it to give a picture of what it might look like and it socio-political implications. Might wait until a little further into the book, but it is plausible and aligns somewhat to experience.

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