Karl-Mannheim Chair of Cultural Studies
An examination of the new frontiers of science and society has to be embedded in an understanding of at least the rough contours of modern societies´ development toward what has been called knowledge societies, the emergence of knowledge-based economies (with biotechnology industries often seen as a core strategy for economic development) and the transformation of the knowledge-guiding interests in social research devoted to an understanding of the social role of knowledge itself.
Knowledge is no longer the key, if it ever was, to unlocking the secrets of the world; rather, it is the becoming of a world. The recognition of this role of knowledge in society is gradually leading to significant changes in the knowledge-guiding interests in those fields of study that concern themselves with the different roles of knowledge in society. Yet the traditional form of the sociology of knowledge (for example, in its most prominent contemporary form of science studies) is to this day primarily interested in the social foundations or dependence of knowledge. The connection – or as Max Scheler, one of the pioneers of the traditional sociology of knowledge, put it – the "intimate linkage" between class and ideology, labor and knowledge, society and truth, or interests and knowledge-guiding interests constitutes and in many ways still represents the primary research focus of inquiries into knowledge. The interest in the social foundations of knowledge as the research focus of the sociology of knowledge originally emerges out of epistemology. But in the tradition of epistemological themes, the question of the genesis of knowledge, its conditions and its consequences, continues to form the core concern of the sociology of knowledge.
The sociology of knowledge has of course – aside from self-exemplifying questions about the foundations of its own consciousness – problematized the societal role of knowledge (for example in the sense of Herrschaft kraft Wissen [authority based on knowledge], and the sociology of knowledge also displays an interest in the social role of the carriers of knowledge (for example intellectuals, bureaucrats, experts, and cultural elites) and the civilizational transformation of forms of knowledge.
Nonetheless, and using economic concepts to describe the core foci of the sociology of knowledge as still widely practiced, interest centers on the supply, and not the demand or the consumption, of knowledge. At the same time, the traditional research guiding interest always saw knowledge as something akin to a dependent variable.
from 01.01.2004 through 31.12.2007
Prof. Nico Stehr
Prof. Nico Stehr Ph.D., FRSC