States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order

By Sheila Jasanoff | Go to book overview

13

Science and the political imagination in contemporary democracies
Yaron EzrahiIn Chorus I of his poem The Rock, T. S. Eliot asks

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

(Eliot 1960)

The poet captures here one of the principal themes of modernity, the shifts from wisdom to knowledge and from knowledge to information as ways or means of knowing. If Eliot were writing today perhaps he would have added another line in which he wonders about the latest and perhaps the most dramatic shift, from information transmitted by means of words and numbers to images, to visual cinematic representations of reality transmitted mostly by the mass electronic media. While “in-formation” is a term which still preserves the association of knowing with the inner person, with the mind, we need a term which will reflect the increasing reliance on outside, external flow of images, the particular association between sight and distance. T. S. Eliot might have wondered today not only where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge and the knowledge we have lost in information, but also “where is the in-formation we have lost in 'out-formations'?”. Following the informational mode of knowing or representing the world, what I call here “outformations” suggests still another stage in the direction of the alienation of the means of knowing from personality, perhaps even a certain return to aspects of the collective imaginary construction of experience by myth.
Introduction
As I have suggested elsewhere, the principal characteristics of the impact of scientific culture on modern (especially democratic) politics include, among other things:
(a) the growing deployment of professional-instrumental and technical vocabularies in fields of political discourse formerly regulated by religious, moral and legal ones;

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