Two mid-C20 theories of knowledge


Friedrich Hayek, ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’, American Economic Review, September 1945:

[One] kind of knowledge, namely, scientific knowledge, occupies now so prominent a place in public imagination that we tend to forget that it is not the only kind that is relevant. It may be admitted that, as far as scientific knowledge is concerned, a body of suitably chosen experts may be in the best position to command all the best knowledge available—though this is of course merely shifting the difficulty to the problem of selecting the experts. What I wish to point out is that, even assuming that this problem can be readily solved, it is only a small part of the wider problem.

Today it is almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge. But a little reflection will show that there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active coöperation. We need to remember only how much we have to learn in any occupation after we have completed our theoretical training, how big a part of our working life we spend learning particular jobs, and how valuable an asset in all walks of life is knowledge of people, of local conditions, and of special circumstances…

It is a curious fact that this sort of knowledge should today be generally regarded with a kind of contempt and that anyone who by such knowledge gains an advantage over somebody better equipped with theoretical or technical knowledge is thought to have acted almost disreputably…

This is, perhaps, also the point where I should briefly mention the fact that the sort of knowledge with which I have been concerned is knowledge of the kind which by its nature cannot enter into statistics and therefore cannot be conveyed to any central authority in statistical form….It follows from this that central planning based on statistical information by its nature cannot take direct account of these circumstances of time and place and that the central planner will have to find some way or other in which the decisions depending on them can be left to the “man on the spot.”

If we can agree that the economic problem of society is mainly one of rapid adaptation to changes in the particular circumstances of time and place, it would seem to follow that the ultimate decisions must be left to the people who are familiar with these circumstances, who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them. We cannot expect that this problem will be solved by first communicating all this knowledge to a central board which, after integrating all knowledge, issues its orders. We must solve it by some form of decentralization…We need decentralization because only thus can we insure that the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place will be promptly used.

Michel Foucault, ‘Two Lectures’, 7 January 1976, in Power/Knowledge:

I believe that by subjugated knowledges one should understand… a whole set of knowledges which have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required levels of knowledge and scientificity. I also believe that it is through the re-emergence of these low-ranking knowledges, these unqualified, sometimes directly disqualified knowledges… parallel and marginal as they are… and which involve what I would call a popular knowledge though it is far from being a general commonsense knowledge, but is on the contrary a particular, local, regional knowledge, a differential knowledge incapable of unanimity… that it is through the re-appearance of this knowledge, of these local popular knowledges, that criticism performs its work.


Let us give the term genealogy to the union of erudite knowledge and local memories…What it really does is is to entertain the claims to attention of local, discontinuous, disqualified, illegitimate knowledges against that unitary body of theory that would filter, hierarchise and order them in the name of some true knowledge and some arbitary idea of what constitutes a science and its objects…They are precisely anti-sciences…We are concerned, rather, with the insurrection of knowledges which are opposed…to the effects of the centralising powers which are linked to the institution and functioning of an organised scientific discourse within a society such as ours…

What types of knowledge do you want to disqualify in the very instant of your demand: ‘Is it a science?’ Which speaking, discoursing subjects – which subjects of experience and knowledge – do you then want to ‘diminish’ when you say: ‘I who conduct this discourse am conducting a scientific discourse, and I am a scientist’? Which theoretical-political avant garde do you want to enthrone in order to isolate it from all the discontinuous forms of knowledge that circulate about it? When I see you straining to establish the scientificity of Marxism I do not really think that you are demonstrating once and for all that Marxism has a rational structure and that therefore its propositions are the outcome of verifiable procedures; for me you are doing something different, you are investing Marxist discourses and those who uphold them with the effects of a power which the West since Medieval times has attributed to science and has reserved to those engaged in scientific discourse.

By comparison, then, and in contrast to the various projects which aim to inscribe knowledges in the hierarchical order of power associated with science, a genealogy should be seen as a kind of attempt to emancipate historical knowledges from that subjection, to render them, that is, capable of opposition and of struggle against the coercion of a theoretical, unitary, formal and scientific discourse. It is based on a reactivation of local knowledges – of minor knowedges, as Deleuze might call them – in opposition to the scientific hierarchisation of knowledges and the effects intrinsic to their power: that is, then, the purpose of these disordered and fragmentary genealogies.

Somehow the propagandists of neoliberal counter-revolution never adopted as their rallying cry a slogan that practically wrote itself: the insurrection of subjugated knowledges by means of prices.


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One Response to “Two mid-C20 theories of knowledge”

  1. Two Mid-C20 Theories of Knowledge Churls Gone Wild Says:

    […] has a rational structure and that therefore its propositions are the outcome of verifiable …Continued var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_localize = { Share: "Share", Save: "Save", Subscribe: […]

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