Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Re-Inventing Society: State Concepts of Knowledge in Germany and Singapore

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Re-Inventing Society: State Concepts of Knowledge in Germany and Singapore

Article excerpt

Introduction: Country-Specific Concepts of Knowledge

In different countries, varying concepts of knowledge prevail and structure politics, especially in the fields of research and development (R&D), education, arts, culture, and the media. (2) Yet, the arena in which the decision concerning what type of knowledge is produced, stored and disseminated is made varies within and between countries. The level of pluralism or singularity in conceptualizing knowledge is generally related to the degree of democratic or authoritarian rule exercised by each country's government and its political system. The concept of knowledge is also strongly influenced by structural realities such as the political and legal system, historical experience, and economic situation. Consequently, country-specific concepts of knowledge that are inflexible or archaic face increasing global pressures. For example, manufacturing industries often move out of industrialized countries while knowledge industries form their new value-generating centres in various parts of the world.

For the purposes of this paper, I draw on Berger and Luckmann's sociology of knowledge, which conceptualizes knowledge as everything that is regarded as knowledge in and by society (1984, p. 16). Empirically, I shall focus on the concepts of knowledge inherent in state politics and budgeting, including expenditure for R&D, education, and cultural activities. These quantitative data are counterchecked against qualitative expert interviews with representatives of the government administrative bodies and state-financed research institutes in both countries. The focus on state concepts of knowledge is an empirical restriction necessary when not all subsystems and groups of society can be assessed. Germany and Singapore are two industrialized nations with few natural resources to build on but with the common will to conduct high-level R&D for further development. While Germany is federally organized, Singapore is a centralized city-state. Both countries have ports and historical trading traditions. Both countries have developed into service economies and today increasingly rely on knowledge, the generation of ideas, innovations and creativity for economic growth. Last but not least, both state governments actively promote the construction of knowledge societies.

This paper assesses three main questions. First, what type of knowledge is--in terms of its production and dissemination--financially supported in both countries? This question is structured by (a) the different sectors of knowledge production (e.g., natural sciences, medicine, engineering, arts, fine arts etc.); (b) the varying applicability of knowledge (basic and/or applied research); (3) as well as (c) the range of knowledge areas (including forbidden knowledge). Secondly, in what way are these concepts of knowledge influenced by the structural realities of those countries as well as global pressures? Thirdly, have different knowledge concepts become increasingly similar in recent times as suggested by the empirical data? The in-depth analysis is structured for assessing the concepts of knowledge in Germany and in Singapore, their history in the past fifty years and structural determination, as well as current understandings. A discussion of the findings concludes the paper.

Knowledge in Germany

History and Structural Determinants of Knowledge

The history of German R&D politics can be divided into (a) the period of construction from 1800 to 1914; (b) the period of extension from 1914 to 1945; and (c) the period of reconstruction after 1945 (Vogel 2000, pp. 155-57). The period of construction was characterized by the establishment of a research infrastructure in order to keep up with England's industrial development. The two world wars affected R&D politics by focusing on marine, aviation, and weapon technology. From 1914 to 1945, research was substantially weakened by the elimination of one third of Germany's university professors. …

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