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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power said Francis Bacon. It is that strength for which others respect you, they listen to you, they consult you, they seek your advice, they believe you, they trust you. It is such a strong power. It was perhaps Michel Foucault who deliberated philosophically on the role and relationship between Power and Knowledge. He was of the view that power determines knowledge and it is powerful who take decision as to what should be considered as knowledge.

There are different kinds of power and often it refers merely to positional power. Power that position gives you. If you leave that position you cease to enjoy that power. So the power is purely attached to a position. Such power dominates formal decisions as to what should be considered as knowledge, what information should be made public and what should be hidden from them. Concealing and revealing becomes the function of positional power. The flow of information is fully controlled. And as knowledge is created through or from the bulk of information and further conveyed to the user. So positional power which is formal in nature can impact decisions positively or otherwise. This is where the individual who holds positional power becomes important. Such power gets used, misused and abused by its patron as per his/her intentions, integrity and intimacy with the issue, concern and situation.

Power can not be just used as a reference for positional power. Power beyond position is more important for wise decisions and fair dispositions as to filter out knowledge from information. Free and fair flow of information is possible only when power is looked beyond formality and position. Control over flow of information results in control over knowledge and control of knowledge results in control over wisdom and that I personally feel is disastrous for fair development of society. Human bias has to be reduced and avoided in order to make just and fair society. Use of positional power by individuals or institutions, states or nations obstruct development of knowledge. Powerful people, powerful institutions, powerful states, and powerful nations dominate over controlling access to information, the stem of knowledge. And perhaps this is what drives people, institutions, states or nations to acquire more power through all modes and methods.    

Many a times development is viewed from the perspective of economic development and in that direction, the worshipers of Adam Smith who preached on capitalism, seem to strongly believe that it is the market which would direct the process of development. So whatever market would determine, would stay, whatever people would like to buy, would be sold, whatever industry houses decide which of course is primarily driven by the market forces shall stay in the market for the duration, market chooses it to stay, whatever market would ask for, industry shall have to produce and provide, whatever market would determine as knowledge shall be considered as knowledge. Does that hold any water?  

My skepticism drives me home with a feeling that ultimately it is the market which is going to determine the whole knowledge construction. Dominant power is market but the delivery of information to the market is within the control of the state. Hence the more powerful state enjoys and controls more access and dissemination of information which ultimately gets culminated into a product called Knowledge. Yes Knowledge is really a power, a super power but it has to come out of the clutches of state that is at present enjoying the control over it.

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Read Panneerselvam's critique of Foucault on Power and Knowledge