Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Mai 2006
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New Conditions, Tasks, and Methods for the Production and Distribution of Knowledge

Herbert Arlt (INST, Vienna)


Innovations and reproductions are the two most essential elements of the production and distribution of knowledge. They are shaped by concrete cultural and social conditions. The consequences of innovations and reproductions can contribute to the wealth of human beings, but also to suffering and destruction.

It is a tradition of the INST since its foundation, to elaborate its strategy in close interaction with international organisations such as the UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union. It is, therefore, as far as the conference "Innovations and reproductions in cultures and societies" is concerned, very important for me, to take into consideration documents and deliberations of these organisations.


1. The new conditions

There is at present a consensus in worldwide discourses that globalisation, knowledge and communication are the most essential factors for the development of societies. This is shown by the formulation of the UNESCO-strategy for the years 2002 until 2007:

"Overall, it [the UNESCO strategy - H.A.]is formulated around a single unifying theme - UNESCO contributing to peace and human development in an era of globalization through education, the sciences, culture and communication. Thus, it seeks to create a link between UNESCO’s mandate and role on the one hand and, on the other, globalization with a human face."(1)

Interesting in this strategic thinking is that it is leaning on the one hand on the tradition of UNESCO (education, science, culture), but that on the other hand it emphasizes as new elements globalisation and communication - two elements of virtuality, which condition each other, and which have their material sides nevertheless.

That communication is understood to be a virtual element is expressed in the terminology we use: letter, telecommunication, cyberspace etc. But as in the case of globalisation one tries to connect today’s (mass-)communication with terms of a real world such as navigation. In fact we are dealing with a virtual process, in which people take part with different chances - even in the framework of www-communication. UNESCO talks about "digital divide"(2) in this context. The situation with respect to other elements of globalisation is not different:

"The persistence of poverty is especially disturbing as it occurs during a phase of intensifying globalization encompassing and affecting all societal activities, not only the economic and financial fields. It has created unprecedented wealth and well-being, but predominantly for rich countries and wealthier segments of populations, while bypassing or even disempowering the poor, countries and individuals alike."(3)

The new conditions, which are emphasized, are, however, not new resources, new machines, new methods of processing, new volumes of trade, but the present globalisation consists mainly of the following factors: weapons technology, financial transactions, communication and imaginary worlds (i.e. especially the neo-liberal ideology and its counter ideologies). As we will have to show, there is in this context a close correlation between the division in the virtual and the real world of communication and the gradient of material riches.

In this very context of inequality one understands the demand for a "globalization with a human face"(4). Originally this formulation was coined in the sixties in the context of the Prague Spring. At that time one talked about Socialism with a Human Face as a hope. The idea of social justice was approved then, but the use of violence - not only of military violence - was rejected. Today, however, the use of military force is justified by the need to introduce "democracy". The result of this are increased military conflicts.

When we are dealing with the description of the conditions of knowledge production, one needs to state, that it is taking place under conditions of a globalisation, which does not only cause inequality, but also poverty and death, and that that is not incidentally part of its programme. Furthermore in the contexts of such a globalisation it seems that those innovations were the most successful which produced the best weapons technologies. For the "superior" technology (ship building, cannons) were the first preconditions for a globalisation according to our current understanding, which started to form already in the 15 th century. (5) Admittedly, none of the global powers was able to maintain itself for any length of time, in a historical perspective. The war in Iraq of the USA and its allies show, how limited their power is. Although the USA is all the time in a position to bombard any chosen place on earth, and can do this as the only power. (6) The innovation in military technology is only of limited use even for the rulers and has brought humanity to the brink of disaster - if we look at it in a principled way. Even today the atomic weapons of the USA and Russia are sufficient to destroy the earth several times over. And the refusal of the great powers to disarm has led to a worldwide race for atomic weapons, because only the possession of atomic weapons has the power to deter. This is a lesson which has been drawn worldwide from the differential actions of the USA towards Iraq and North Korea. Therefore large proportions of the budget - not only of the USA, but also in the poorest countries - are flowing to the military, although the "innovations" in this area have no social future.

Further we need to state that it is not trade with consumer goods, in the first instance, which brings about the inequality. Today’s globalisation is - next to the weapons technology - in the first instance a concept, an ideology (generally designated as the neo-liberal ideology). In contrast to the ideology of the free market and democracy the concept of this ideology consists in a dictate - based on the superiority of military technology - of the restriction of the flow of goods (agrarian products as well as technology), of the brain-drain, the global exploitation of raw materials. Part of this concept is to transform everything into consumer goods: water, health, food, shelter, energy, sex, knowledge - no sphere is spared this attempt to profit from it. And that is the basis for the conflicts of the present. Because the impossibility to satisfy the basic needs, which allow a dignified survival, produces the sting which has been the cause of the destruction of the other (at least as wish or ideology). (7)

The destructions therefore begin at first with virtual (but everyday) concepts. And these concepts utilise in their descriptions of conflicts, even in the conflicts in parliament etc, the rituals of ancient tribal wars. Admittedly they do not always allow control mechanisms such as the ones which brought about the deposition of a ruler amongst African tribes if he started a war wantonly or endangered the lives of his subjects in another way. And without such control mechanisms one merely continues the tradition of arbitrary rule.

As UNESCO therefore has already formulated it in its preamble(8), such concepts are not at all based on natural necessities. Globalisation as acts of economic or military violence is an inappropriate way of political action, which currently leads more and more into a political dead end, which does not seem to provide an exit. A globalisation with a human face, on the basis of a culture of peace, relying on conflict resolutions with the help of an (international) legal order, with open sources in the realm of knowledge, open framework conditions for creative work, non-profit-making administration of essential resources and all areas of vital needs etc. - that is another and real possibility. Here, in these fields of contradiction, of globalisation between an uncontrolled exercise of power, and open co-operations across borders, the threatening destruction becomes a social reality, but at the same time the possible changes begin to be visible. To think about new tasks in knowledge processes is, in this context, as much part of a possible process of change as the analysis of the conditions under which this is possible.


2. The new tasks

In order to circumscribe the new tasks, one needs to ponder what is essential in social processes. Even if in the history books as late as the 20th century the "deeds" of the rulers are still dominant, it was the fire, writing, the potatoes, the electricity etc., which revolutionised the life of people and which were really meaningful in the history of humanity. Violence is allied to destruction, impoverishment and forgetting. In this way the military victory of "Christian" Spain over the Moors started the impoverishment of everyday life. The conquests of Hitler were followed by the destruction of Germany, the conquests of Japan by the obliteration of entire cities. The tyrants have always tried to hide some of their identity or the true reason of their actions(9), because violence inspires fear, but is also rejected. The historians of the tyrants are - as shown in the play "Vineta" - the chronologists of forgetting.(10) Or as Canetti writes: "Power has never lacked praise singers. The historians which are professionally obsessed with power, tend to explain everything with historical time, behind which they can hide as cognoscenti, or with necessity, which in their hands takes on every possible shape." (11)

Therefore I want to think about the innovative work, its other form of creating value, about the importance of the reproduction of this work and its massive availability, about contra-productive transfer, the meaning of the public, of democracy and its conceptions.

The central thesis of this part is that the knowledge revolution has been initiated with the use of images and signs. The further phases of this knowledge revolution connected with the richer societies came with new forms of reproduction (book printing, journals, newspapers, radio, TV, internet), but also with a wider access to the virtual world (general education, new methods of interpretation and communication).

Reproduction is a central factor of the knowledge revolution. Tradition (reproduction) is important for people and an essential precondition for their activity: how do you plant an field? How do I produce a tool? But this tradition presupposes, that the form of an activity, of a tool (a technology) has been discovered sometime in the past.

These innovations in actions, technologies etc. entail the creation of a completely different form of value than the reproductive activities (agrarian activities, trades, industry, services, education, museums, media etc.) In the case of reproductive activities each product is given an added value. In the case of innovative activities we create completely new preconditions for groups or even masses, which allow a greater creation of value. That is true not only for the technological area, but especially for the area of knowledge.

Therefore at present it is not only the fight for financial means which have highlighted the culture industry, as well as culture tourism. Both agricultural products (in Austria e.g. the pumpkin, which was for a long time nearly totally overlooked and which can be found today in restaurants, but especially in households), as well as regions (e.g. mountains which were considered to be the warts of the earth in the Middle Ages) profit from these changes. The financing of musicals, operas, festivals etc. is made possible by the argument of detour profitability. Further, the new distribution mechanisms have made it possible to make images, signs and knowledge accessible to a broader mass of people, and that has influenced their everyday life.

These attempts to argue, with the intention of strengthening the cultural factor in societies do, however, lead entirely in the wrong direction. In this way one merely tries to subject the creative area (sciences, research, arts etc.) to the conditions of industrial production. That is true for the social legislation as well as for administration and thus for the essential framework conditions of creative work. More and more work needs to be done in the area of administration - especially in societies with strong neo-liberal influences. That contradicts the ideology, but it has its own sort of logic, since the neo-liberal ideology finds itself in a contradiction to reality. Nowhere could it be proved that the neo-liberal conditions have led to an improvement: neither in the area of the railways (e.g. England) nor that of electricity (e.g. Australia) nor in that of public transport (e.g. New York) nor the postal services (e.g. Austria) etc. And in no way in the area of knowledge production. Especially the remoteness of neo-liberal concepts from reality demands that one should not take note of or even prevent social science analyses, since these analyses must necessarily demonstrate the failure of this ideology.

Let us take universities and societies as one example of the failure of the neo-liberal ideology. From South Africa to the USA, from England to Australia, principles were forced through which imitate industrial production at the very moment when such production diminishes in real importance in society. Even in the past there existed the separation of the natural sciences and the human sciences (humanities). The background for this is the better industrial utilisation of the natural sciences. One did not only take the difference in the cognitive forms as the basis for the organisation of universities, but the way they were financed, as well as their usefulness in industrial production. This tendency continued in the second half of the 20th century with a marginalisation of the humanities, but at the same time cultural studies or the cultural sciences (Kulturwissenschaften) started a counter movement. On the whole, because of this form of the industrialisation of the universities, this created a worrying situation for science and research.

The situation in the alternative area for individual persons and societies is not different. Although many more commercial enterprises are going bankrupt than societies, there are attempts to adapt the legislation on societies to that of the commercial enterprises. In consequence private persons are supposed to be liable for public finances (especially after the introduction of Basel II). The administrative expenditure has been increased particularly under neo-liberal governments, while at the same time the exactitude of accounting has been in no way increased. On the contrary, one needs to state that this is a systematic and structural waste of time and money.

In now way does this procedure agree with today’s tasks. What would be required is a good sign, language and interpretation ability, as well as the ability to develop and realise concepts. Everything else are knowledge building bricks, which today become obsolete very quickly. The dominant requirement is to understand what knowledge is and how it can be renewed all the time. Knowledge building blocks are secondary.

If one accepts these premises, then subjects in the languages, literatures and arts are not of secondary importance, but the skills transmitted in these subjects are the central precondition for innovation, but also for efficient reproductions. Not only the university and societies policy is disregarding this, but the state’s dealing with languages is catastrophic in its very centre. That can be shown in the way governments are dealing with the German language. For decades there has been a fight about a new set of orthographic rules - as if it was a question of rules and not of new structures and the demands of communication. With this mistake - working on an unacceptable set of rules - those involved have succeeded in diminishing the importance of the German language at home and abroad, although politically the very opposite was the aim.

But the ability to interpret is in no way better. That can been seen in a coarse public sphere, where slogans and screaming headlines are based on reproductions, which obstruct development. For the real developments need access to the newest knowledge, even in the everyday world, something that is emphasized in the UNESCO-strategy:

"UNESCO will also be called to play a central role in bridging the divide between traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge, bringing a science perspective to knowledge at community levels. This must be complemented by community-oriented science education, allowing the introduction of scientific perspectives into the daily lives and productions of people."(12)

It is not an elite which occupies the centre; in reality it is important to create other educational preconditions for everyone, other concepts and other forms of realisation. But here there is a general shortcoming in all areas - even in the sciences there is a lack of the necessary openness and differentiation. It would , however, be a chance for Europe: to draw on the ability to innovate of the hundreds of thousands of scientists in Europe within a European space of research. One important precondition would be that individuals, societies, universities, research institutions would have the necessary basic means to be able to participate. Not the best regulatory framework, but the best framework for working freely would produce success and an efficient use of the financial means. That presupposes a Europe which is not a Europe of the "elites", but a Europe which is supported by real majorities - especially supporting its changes.


3. Methods

The development of the scientific disciplines in the 19th century did not necessarily follow new scientific insights (even if that is often said), but oriented itself according to social existing conditions and was involved in shaping them. The set-up of the language subjects oriented itself in many cases in agreement with national requirements and ignored the reality of common grammatical and lexical structures. That is also true for literature, the arts, historical sciences, and all areas which are concerned with the establishment of the nation. On the inside this was legitimised by academics, and on the outside by private and public clients.

Like the human sciences the natural sciences have discredited themselves by their close liaison with social processes, although public media often try to create the impression that they are - in contradistinction to the human sciences - exact sciences. In reality, in the centre of natural science proofs one finds reproduction. Whatever can be repeated is proven (where the real problem consists in the fact that a central element of this proof is a scientist reductionism, with whose help specific conditions are created for the proof). In this way natural scientists constantly create unforeseen consequences of their action (e.g. the devastating flooding which occur again and again because of the regulation of the European rivers).

Both in the case of the humanities and the natural sciences the social ties had negative consequences. In the one case it was concepts for violence against many, in the other it was the instruments and the means to be violent which were given to those in power. In the framework of the development of a European research space as a project for peace completely new beginnings would be possible. According to these new conditions and tasks cooperation is definitely suggested:

"Given the enormous speed of scientific discoveries and advances, there is an increasing need for international scientific and intellectual cooperation. Indeed, effective sharing of scientific knowledge and electronic networking and interchanges are becoming ever more critical in bolstering human security and progress, to be reflected in informed policy- and decision making for sustainable development. The 1999 World Conference on Science has charted the way for UNESCO to support and promote scientific cooperation at all levels, drawing on its unique comparative advantage of combing natural and human sciences under one roof."(13)

A cooperation which in the practice of the UNESCO and in the European processes goes beyond the cooperation of disciplines. It builds on the cooperation of the various areas such as education, culture and knowledge production, in order to work out excellent analyses and programs. Knowledge production and distribution must therefore be transdisciplinary. An essential point in this context are new common objects of knowledge production. New are therefore especially the object definitions and questions raised. The method itself is most of the time a synergy of various existing methods.


4. Knowledge Society

Such a new object is the construction of a knowledge society, which has been emphasized again and again in the medium-term-strategy 2002 till 2007. There are, however, hardly any concrete conceptions of this knowledge society - apart from the marketing strategies in various areas, which are hindering insights and lead to substantial conflicts. Nevertheless one can notice other moments in the current development:

4.1. The portion of the population which is working in the agricultural sector, has decreased drastically since the beginning of the 20th century. In the industrial sector, too, one can notice decreases. On the other hand the knowledge sector has increased enormously. This does not only refer to the mass universities, but also, and in the first instance, to the many producers of knowledge, which in the meantime bring offers to the marketplace for nearly every area of life - from nutrition to financial planning to political consultations.

4.2. The basis of these new offerings is the wealth of a society (the adequate production of essential goods). The precondition is that massive knowledge has been injected into agriculture and industrial production.

4.3. There are still many poor countries in the world (most of them in Africa). Here even the most simple preconditions for a production of knowledge are very often missing: education, publicity, networking via internet. Nevertheless it is much easier to create the preconditions for a knowledge society of the new type, than to produce an infrastructure for an industrial production or to raise the capital for such a production. This a great chance, unless it is limited by protectionism and monopolies.

4.4. An essential precondition for a knowledge society is the urbanisation of the world. This has progressed enormously in the second half of the 20 th century. At the end of the 20th century according to the UN more than 50% of humanity lived in towns or cities.

4.5. So far material goods have determined the exchange. Only money was virtual in most cases. But now virtuality becomes the decisive factor in the relations of exchange - not only as the carrier of communication, but also as a commercial factor.

4.6. Therefore the accessibility to the public sphere has a strategic importance. That is true both for the access to information and to knowledge in general as well as the individual chances. The close correlation between unemployment and (structural as well as functional) illiteracy is decisive, which does not only burden the poorest countries, but is also an essential factor of mass unemployment in the European Union, and thus a heavy burden for society. This shows as well, that a concentration on so-called "elites" is useless.


5. Concluding remarks

Although innovation, knowledge and knowledge society have become key slogans of world wide media, there are very few attempts to understand which frameworks are necessary for the development of this qualitatively new form of production. In order to do justice to these demands, changes in all areas are necessary - especially in the knowledge production which is still fragmented in various disciplines and subject areas. What is important in this context is not only an interdisciplinary, but a transdisciplinary cooperation in the framework of a polylogue, which meets the new social conditions and uses them in a humanitarian sense. The UNESCO-strategy offers essential suggestions - also in the strategic cooperation and networking.

© Herbert Arlt (INST, Vienna)


(1) Abfrage vom 30.4.2006. See also: Medium-Term-Strategy 2002-2007. Contributing to peace and human development in an era of globalization through education, the sciences, culture and communication. UNESCO: Paris 2002. (Resolution 31C/4.)

(2) Ebd., S. 4.

(3) Ebd., S. 3.

(4) Siehe Anmerkung 1.

(5) Vgl. dazu:

(6) Vgl. Samuel P. Huntington: Kampf der Kulturen. Europaverlag: München – - Wien 1997, S.130ff.

(7) Vgl. Anm. 5.

(8) Vgl. die Präambel der UNESCO: ‘since wars begin in the minds of men, it is the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed’. Im WWW:

(9) Vgl. Herbert Arlt (Hrsg.): Erinnern und Vergessen als Denkprinzipien. Röhrig Universitätsverlag: St. Ingbert 2002.

(10) Jura Soyfer: Vineta. In: Jura Soyfer: Szenen und Stücke, Werkausgabe Bd. II, Deuticke: Wien 2002, S. 187ff.

(11) Elias Canetti: Masse und Macht. Frankfurt am Main 1980 (Erstausgabe: Düsseldorf 1960), S.487.

(12) Medium-Term-Strategy 2002-2007, S. 4.

(13) Ebd., S.4.

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For quotation purposes:
Herbert Arlt (INST, Vienna): New Conditions, Tasks, and Methods for the Production and Distribution of Knowledge. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005.

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