Politics and Epistemology: Repositioning the Humanities in the Knowledge Economy

Prof Mary C. Rawlinson
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Since WWII, funding of research and education has focused overwhelmingly on science and technology. The marginalization of the humanities negatively affects both knowledge and the human community.

While institutions in scientific and technical fields provide ample space for the circulation and evaluation of knowledge claims, the humanities rely on relatively small, fragmented sites. Hence, it appears that science produces knowledge, while the humanities produce only a cacophony of opinion. This institutional weakness undermines knowledge in the humanities and reinforces their marginality.

When the humanities are discounted as effective strategies for urgent human problems, agency is eviscerated. Moral decisions like the just allocation of social resources are reduced to scientific or statistical analysis. Lacking the humanities' critical skills of analysis and argument, citizens are passively subject to the manipulation of political rhetoric and impotent to question the domination of economic and technical goals, as these subsume other values. This produces a world that supports the "life" of the "market", at the expense of diverse forms of human life.

Arguing that the humanities provide the resources to revive questions of value and restore human agency, I outline three strategies for repositioning the humanities within knowledge.

First, the humanities provide knowledge of knowledge itself. The study of how knowledge is produced, disseminated, and codified reveals the intertwining of knowledge and power, and the limits of science and technique as strategies for human life. This aspect of the humanities directly addresses the threat to human agency posed by the instrumentalist tendencies of the contemporary knowledge economy.

Second, while writing and literacy are supported as preconditions for economic success, little attention is given to the practice of reading as a means for developing the articulated interior life upon which a critical consciousness and sense of agency depend. Reading provides immediate knowledge of another mind and facilitates the production of an effective self.

Finally, while the human body is a site of commodification and technical manipulation, the humanities can revive it as a locus of pleasure and agency. This approach reorients human enterprise toward a world in a human scale, whose primary goals are not productivity and order, but joy and creativity.

Keywords: Epistemology, Instrumentalism, Power, Agency, Ethics, Pleasure
Stream: Knowledge
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Prof Mary C. Rawlinson

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy College of Arts and Sciences, Stony Brook University

Mary C. Rawlinson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and Affiliated Faculty in Comparative Literature. She is the author of "Medicine: Science of the Individual" and the editor of "Derrida and Feminism", "Foucault and the Philosophy of Medicine", "Breasts and Medicine", and "Feminist Bioethics". She has published articles on Proust, aesthetics, and mystery and detective fiction, as well as Hegel and French feminism. She served for four years as Associate Dean of Curriculum and is the founding director of the Learning Communities Program, an innovative general education curriculum, partially funded by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation.

Ref: H05P0178