Friday, 18 January 2008

Performativity

The last post described Lyotard on knowledge and money, demonstrating that, since the start of the idea of science, money has increased the probability of being right, by enabling technologies that enhance the capacity of the human body. Once the equation between money and knowledge is established, research funding can become an investment. Like any investment, the result of it - in this case knowledge - produces (hopefully) surplus value, which can then be sold and reinvestment in the production of knowledge... turning it into a system characterised by the circulation of capital.

The result, Lyotard suggests, is a shift in the nature of legitimation, as we shall see in this posting.

"The relationship between science and technology is reversed"

says Lyotard on p47,

"...the goal is no longer truth, but performativity - that is, the best possible input/output equation" (p.46)

This statement suggests that, in order to ensure it continues, those who purport to act in the interests of an institution will protect that institution by the production of the most valuable knowledge according to an economic-type formula. This is because the relationship between knowledge and money led to a capitalist system:

"Research sectors that are unable to argue that they contribute even indirectly to the optimization of the system's performance are abandoned by the flow of capital" (p.47)

Performativity is a kind of efficiency, in which the return on investment is key to survival in the capitalist/university system.

But the influence of performativity as the new form of legitimation does not stop at the development of a capitalist system. Now that knowledge is in itself capital, the character of knowledge and its importance in the world also changes. (If Joseph Knecht had thought of this in the glass bead game he could have saved Castalia from its irrelevance to the world...or maybe not, as we'll see).

First, performativity changes the focus and value of education: 

"The question ... is no longer 'is it true?' but 'what use is it?' "

though this particular debate plagues education forever, it has a particularly chilling nuance in the context described Lyotard:

"In the context of the mercantilisation of knowledge, more often than not this question is equivalent to: 'is it saleable?' And in the context of power-growth: 'is it efficient?'"

Power-growth is like economic growth, only it relates to the accumulation of power/knowledge (and maybe money as well, sometimes). Knowledge, like Bourdieu's cultural capital, can circulate and function as a type of capital on its own. Though, it could be argued that it is more likely to circulate with money, given the relationship between money and the probability of being right. And thus the commodification, not just the capitalisation (is that even a word?) of knowledge and education:

"... vast market for competence in operational skills". (p.51)

And a world in which knowledge becomes incredibly valuable to the world (thus may have been able to solve Joseph Knecht's problem):

"Seen in this light, what we are approaching is not the end of knowledge - quite the contrary. Data banks are the Encyclopedia of tomorrow. They transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are 'nature' for postmodern man." (p51)

And women, as Lina's blog shows.

I thought I'd finish it all in this post, but need just one more.





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