A sociolinguistic approach to applied epistemology: Examining technocratic values in global 'knowledge' policy

Social Epistemology 15 (3):155-169 (2001)
Abstract
This special issue presents an excellent opportunity to study applied epistemology in public policy. This is an important task because the arena of public policy is the social domain in which macro conditions for ‘knowledge work’ and ‘knowledge industries’ are defined and created. We argue that knowledge-related public policy has become overly concerned with creating the politico-economic parameters for the commodification of knowledge. Our policy scope is broader than that of Fuller (1988), who emphasizes the need for a social epistemology of science policy. We extend our focus to a range of policy documents that include communications, science, education and innovation policy (collectively called knowledge-related public policy in acknowledgement of the fact that there is no defined policy silo called ‘knowledge policy’), all of which are central to policy concerned with the ‘knowledge economy’ (Rooney and Mandeville, 1998). However, what we will show here is that, as Fuller (1995) argues, ‘knowledge societies’ are not industrial societies permeated by knowledge, but that knowledge societies are permeated by industrial values. Our analysis is informed by an autopoietic perspective. Methodologically, we approach it from a sociolinguistic position that acknowledges the centrality of language to human societies (Graham, 2000). Here, what we call ‘knowledge’ is posited as a social and cognitive relationship between persons operating on and within multiple social and non-social (or, crudely, ‘physical’) environments. Moreover, knowing, we argue, is a sociolinguistically constituted process. Further, we emphasize that the evaluative dimension of language is most salient for analysing contemporary policy discourses about the commercialization of epistemology (Graham, in press). Finally, we provide a discourse analysis of a sample of exemplary texts drawn from a 1.3 million-word corpus of knowledge-related public policy documents that we compiled from local, state, national and supranational legislatures throughout the industrialized world. Our analysis exemplifies a propensity in policy for resorting to technocratic, instrumentalist and anti-intellectual views of knowledge in policy. We argue that what underpins these patterns is a commodity-based conceptualization of knowledge, which is underpinned by an axiology of narrowly economic imperatives at odds with the very nature of knowledge. The commodity view of knowledge, therefore, is flawed in its ignorance of the social systemic properties of ��knowing’
Keywords 400104 Communication and Media Studies  729901 Technological and organisational innovation  C1
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