Sunday 14 November 2010

Institutions and Knowledge: the gatekeeper fallacy

Is there something that institutions do which directly relates to the nature of knowledge? Would we talk about physics, chemistry, philosophy, etc if it weren’t for the continued existence of institutions? Do institutions merely produce knowledge or are they tied up in the mechanisms of its existence? If institutions disappeared, would knowledge disappear?

Grounds that might give us reason to think that institutions are not knowledge factories may rest on ideas that knowledge requires a ‘double-description’: a ‘content-form’ and a ‘person-form’. Institutions implement processes and regulate those processes through teachers, content and learning activities. ‘Knowledge’ can be seen to be in the people and in the content.
Talk about the institution no longer being the gatekeeper to knowledge is to see knowledge merely in its ‘content’ form. This is a category mistake. The person-form of knowledge (the knowledge as it is known and lived by a person) does not necessitate an institution, but institutions tend to do this well: it is how they are made. To do it in other ways requires strong local support where open content might be used to regulate processes with others who might reveal the ‘person form’ (family members, friends, etc) – but those who support would likely be the products of institutions in the past. If institutions were to disappear and we were only left with the content-form I think we would lose the forms of knowledge we have now; we may generate new forms of knowledge – but that process would accompany a ‘re-institutionalisation’.

What the institution must do is to extend the person-form of knowledge to the world just as it is extending the content-form. For weaker students, the person form is more important: learning must be more ‘fleshly’. The question is “how can technology help the institution do this? And how can they do it cheaply so that the weakest can afford it?”

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