Monday, 12 January 2009

KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY DEBATES: TRUTH, POLITICS AND THE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY

By SHANTI MAHENDRA

Members of the STEPS centre and several Indian scholars from Hyderabad, India discussed issues around what a ‘knowledge society’ means on 5-6 January.

At the roundtable discussion 5 January, about 30 academicians discussed overarching issues of how controversies around science and technology are issues about democracy, ethics and social relations. This discussion was taken further in the public debate the following day.

Opening the public discussion, Shiv Visvanathan, a researcher at (http://www.daiict.ac.in/daiict/index.html) and a STEPS Centre advisor, stated that the currently popular model of scientific and technological advancement is being increasingly destabilised in the context of climate change debates. Dr. Balaji from ICRISAT also raised the issue that in the name of scientific creativity a lot of destruction was going on.

Brian Wynne, a Professor at Lancaster University and an advisor to the STEPS Centre, appealed that we should take innovations from below from the civil society seriously to challenge the monopoly of scientific institutions. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Harvard also an advisor to the STEPS Centre, elaborated on what it means to speak truth to power in the current climate of uncertainty. She powerfully challenged the point that only experts have right to speak about good and bad of science and technology.

Brian Wynne and Sheila Jasanoff in saying this were joining the previous speakers’ discontent about the popular model of science and technology.

Discussing social aspects of knowledge society, Prof. Hargopal, a former Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Hyderabad contended that the rapid advancements in science and technology have created a rupture in social relations. Proposing that the knowledge about society proceeds at slower speed than the knowledge about nature, Hargopal propounded that our understanding of crisis in fact is about the crisis of knowledge, about nature and society.

Dr. Balasubramanian from the L.V.Prasad Eye Institute chaired and moderated the discussion between audience and the panel which covered a variety of issues and concluded the discussion by emphasising the agency of civil society in building scientifically endowed democratic society.

Despite their scope and ambition, visions of a ‘knowledge society’ are fluid, not set in stone. They play out in contrasting ways in different places. In fact, these uncertainties over the direction of change are more than mere expert debates over ‘safety’ or ‘risk’. They are as much ethical, cultural and political as they are technical, economic or scientific. Indeed, it is in shaping these alternative visions for change that ‘knowledge’ becomes truly political,

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