“Knowlege Creation” a.k.a. an obscenely long post that ends with a batman reference
David Lankes’ (2011) discussion of ‘knowledge creation’ in his book, Atlas of New Librarianship reminded me of a particular experience I’ve had as a student.
This experience I’ve actually had more than once. It usually entails a class discussion on a topic that inspires strong opinions. While not always the case, as someone who has participated in her fair share of fierce debates both in and out of the classroom setting, I’ve found that a lot of actual disagreements are due to semantics. Let me give a specific example. I can remember having a discussion with a group of students over whether or not it was possible for free will to co-exist with theories of bio-determinism. After about an hour or so hashing it out, it was only when we – as a group – tried to nail down ‘free will’ as a concept in terms of what we each meant by ‘free will’ that we were – as a group – able to find some common ground and move forward with the discussion. This relates to Lankes’ discussion in the sense that as a student, I have had experience with the importance of clearly defining relationships, of not relying solely on words as static concepts in order to create and communicate knowledge. In that sense I think Lankes’ (2011) observation that part of understanding something is through its relationship with other things is correct. If only because in my own experience I’ve found that a concept like ‘free will,’ to a group of students, only has meaning and the potential for knowledge growth if that group of students are all on the same page in terms of what the concept of ‘free will’ actually means and how it relates to each individual student’s pre-existing knowledge base.
Lankes, R. David (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
#############Notes on class discussion July 24th, 2012###############
Today’s class made me want to add one or two observations to my discussion of the “knowledge creation thread.” In particular I was intrigued by a blog post Prof. Lankes brought to the attention of the class. The blog post, written by Lane Wilkinson, expressed enthusiasm for the scope of the The Atlas, but ultimately rejected the Atlas for it’s “relativist world view.” A link to the blog post can be found here.
First I should probably begin with a disclaimer. It has been a long time since I studied epistemology and for the most part, my concentration has always been philosophy of law and political theory and not epistemology. I should also probably mention that I am currently taking #IST 511 with David Lankes and have no doubt probably been brainwashed. That being said, as someone who ‘has drunk the Koo-Aide so to speak’, I do feel compelled to offer one or two arguments on Lankes behalf. While it certainly is legitimate to question whether a group of students discussing human free will and bio-determinism ever come close to the truth or the other epistemic concepts Wilkinson lists (justification, warrant, objectivity, etc.), what is not legitimate is to assume that the absence of those epistemic concepts necessarily results in no knowledge creation.
Let me explain. As one of the students in the discussion, I can fully admit that it would be a breathtaking display of arrogance to assume that, because I had discussed the matter with a group of students, I somehow had become aware of the truth. That I somehow, through conversation, had arrived at the correct understanding of the relationship between human free will and bio-determinism. I would never argue that; but what I would argue is that through my conversation with the other students, I gained a better understanding of not only the beliefs and understanding of the issue of the other students, but a better understanding of my own beliefs and understanding of the issue. While this awareness might not be knowledge of the topic discussed, it is knowledge of the how my beliefs and understanding of an issue relate to others’ beliefs and understanding of an issue.
Subsequently, it is important to distinguish between knowledge with a capital ‘K’, which would be the kind of knowledge that satisfies the epistemic concepts, and knowledge that is created through dialogue and is more of a self-awareness of one’s own beliefs and understanding of a topic, as well as an awareness of the dialogue’s other participants’ beliefs and understanding of a topic and how the two are related.
Of course, I can imagine Wilkinson would come back with an argument along the lines of, ‘so what.’ So what if the knowledge created is not the kind with a capital ‘K.’ The main concern of librarians and scientists should be knowledge with a capital ‘K.’ To this I would ask Wilkinson to imagine, instead of a group of students, a professor of philosophy who specializes in issues of free will, a psychologist who specializes in compulsive behavior, an evolutionary biologist, and a professor or neurology and organic chemistry who specializes in the chemical pathways of the brain. All of these esteemed colleagues decide one night, over a pitcher of beer, to embark on a joint venture together to seek truth and knowledge with a capital ‘K’ in order to shed light on the question of free will and bio-determinism. I don’t think Lankes would argue that a conversation between these individuals (hopefully helped along by an information professional and not just beer) would result in knowledge with a capital ‘K’, rather I think what Lankes would argue would result, and should result, is a consensus of what the issue at hand is as, through the conversation, each member gains a better understanding of what each of them has to contribute to this endeavor and how to move forward together. While the knowledge created through such a conversation might not be knowledge with a capital ‘K,’ it is a very important sort of knowledge that shouldn’t be discounted out-of-hand (especially by librarians).
Here, at the risk of destroying all the good will I’ve built up with professor Lankes by trying to defend the Atlas, I think it’s important to note that I do actually agree with some of the viewpoints expressed by Wilkinson. I agree for instance that it is somewhat disappointing not to find more philosophical viewpoints on the field of librarianship in a book that is meant to serve as an introduction to the field. On the one hand, I think I can see where Wilkinson is coming from. In philosophy of law 101 for instance you get a broad overview of the concepts and you spend a lot of your time as a student thinking things like, ‘Hobbes was the guy who said life sucks so we have to hand over power to a king, and Locke was the guy who said, yeah, but only some power not all of it.’ It’s only later when you fulfill all your prerequisites and have a general understanding to build upon do you get to read the treatises of any one philosopher or philosophical standpoint and are able to be truly swept away by a particular philosopher or viewpoint.
On the other hand, back to defending Lankes, it’s very clear sitting in Lankes class that he has a clear agenda. Lankes wants to churn out activists, he wants to churn out librarians who are ready to hit the ground running, who are confident in their ability to literally change the world and make it a better place. I see Lankes as the Marx of librarianship, and while you would never probably read The Communist Manifesto in an introductory philosophy course, you would read it first thing if the goal of the instructor was to inspire students and professionals-in-training to improve and actually change the very issue or profession they are studying.
Consequently, since I have already exceeded what is proper for not only this assignment, but for a blog post in general, I will end this discussion with a somewhat silly analogy to recap my original objection to Wilkinson’s critique of Lankes’ (2012) use of conversation theory in the Atlas and here it is:
If knowledge with a capital ‘K’ is batman, than the knowledge that is created through conversation is Alfred and, before you sigh with exasperation, realize that Alfred, like a librarian, is in reality quite a bad ass!!