[Reader-list] Discussion on Knowledge and Democracy

The Sarai Programme dak at sarai.net
Fri Jul 16 12:39:46 IST 2004

Dear friends,

Some of us have felt the necessity of developing an understanding of the 
contemporary transformations in creation, organisation and communication 
of knowledge. We think that a productive way of developing this 
understanding is through dialogues with the diverse way of living, 
thinking and working with knowledge/s. We are planning to organise a 
discussion group which meets once every month and to relay further these 
discussions in other forums, both offline and online.

We invite you to this engagement and think that your participation will 
bring in fresh experience, insights and provocations to this process of 
understanding. A brief note is enclosed to facilitate the discussions in 
its initial stages. The venue of the discussions will be CSDS Library. 
The first in this series of discussions will take place on Tuesday, the 
3rd of August at 4:30 in the afternoon at the Library, CSDS,

Warm regards

Avinash Jha
avinash at csdsdelhi.org
Discussion coordinator

Discussion Initiators:
Avinash Jha (the Library, CSDS)
Vijay Pratap (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam)
Shuddabrata Sengupta (Sarai-CSDS)
Jeebesh Bagchi(Sarai-CSDS)

Note for a discussion on Knowledge and Democracy

In the academy, we are witnessing a situation of conflict between two 
knowledge formations, which go under the rubric of `theory', and 'science'. 
'Theory' can be replaced by 'postmodernism', or relativism, or 'social 
constructivism'. 'Science' can similarly be exchanged for 'objectivism', or 
'scientism'. We are left with essentially the same conflict even when the 
terms are changed. Conceptions of experience and language and their 
implications for criteria of right knowledge are central to this debate. Do 
we need to take sides in this conflict? What is the meaning and social 
significance of this 'war of ideas'?

In the activist world, we see another struggle between two formations of 
knowledge and values, which often takes place within the same individuals, or 
in the same organizational and social context. On the one hand, we have the 
'modern' or 'scientific' or 'theoretical and abstract' knowledge and, on the 
other, we have 'ecological', 'experiential', 'traditional or tribal', or even 
'social'. The meaning of 'science' here is much broader. It is not primarily 
the research activity being carried out in the academy, but a complex of 
knowledge, power and technology embodying values of dominant class, gender, 
civilization, or human species itself. Science employs millions of scientists 
and technical workers in war machines or profit machines. On the opposite 
side is the reality of egalitarian movements for emancipation of workers, 
women, children, and citizens which are coextensive with modernity in some 
sense. This debate is often embroiled in the academic debate between 
postmodernism and science and the political conflict of liberalism and 

These conflicts, dilemmas and arguments are overshadowed by Globalisation and 
the emergence of new information technologies. 'Knowledge-society' can in 
some sense resolve the conflicts of knowledge by accommodating both sides 
through a model of 'knowledge management'. Both modern and traditional 
knowledge can be managed and used productively in this system where knowledge 
is commodity or property. Hardware mirrors the realm of nature and necessity 
while the software mirrors the realm of freedom and desire, or culture. The 
body is a battlefield of nature and culture and the location of fulfillment. 
Knowledge institutions and activities are often torn between the interests of 
the private sector and civil society. Sponsored research make many results 
doubtful. Global media thrives. Activists increasingly use internet for 
communication and organization.

What we have tried to do is to create the context for a discussion on the 
question of knowledge and democracy. When we want to discuss the issue of 
knowledge in a democratic society, we encounter at least two dimensions. What 
should be the philosophical, institutional and social basis for creation, 
organization and communication of knowledge in a democratic society? In other 
words, how should knowledge activities and knowledge become a part of life in 
a democratic society? The second dimension is the question of democratization 
of knowledge itself. Can something be voted by majority to be truth? Does 
truth belong to the oppressed?  

Comments, responses are welcome.

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