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Aims, Claims, and Content of this Volume

A main intention of this volume is to raise awareness of important research issues that various disciplines have brought into the field of knowledge, action, and space to define research gaps and misunderstandings and, if possible, to build bridges between diverse theoretical approaches. For this purpose we editors have selected a broad range of topics and various scales of analysis. More than a dozen disciplines do research on knowledge, learning, education, innovation, and creativity. Even a glance at the definitions and concepts of knowledge used in different disciplines[1] documents the necessity of looking beyond the fence of one’s own subject and avoiding monodisciplinary lists of references. Even if some of the approaches initially seem mutually incompatible, a synopsis of the relevant research from a variety disciplines can help improve the understanding of the links between knowledge, action, and space and can prompt new research questions.

This volume brings together a broad range of theoretical approaches delving into knowledge, action, and space from different angles. Some of the contributors discuss knowledge as a social construct based on collective action, on socially embedded and guiding social action. Others look at knowledge as an individual capacity to act. The breadth of studies ranges from the role of knowledge in individual action to its role in collective action, from knowledge and action in the hunter-gatherer society to knowledge production in financial capitalism. The discussion of concepts and theories of knowledge touches on topics such as semantic knowledge and its organization into domains, asymmetrical knowledge and the polarization of knowledge and nonknowledge, knowledge and collective action,[2] situated problem-solving, spatial dispersion of knowledge, knowledge and planning, and expertise as a link between knowledge and practical action.

In the chapter following this introduction, Benno Werlen describes the long path geographers had to follow before they arrived at concepts of space suitable for issues of social geography. Until the late 1990s, the theoretical concepts in many fields of human geography diverted attention from the key role that the social dimension plays in the construction of meaningful geographical realities.[3]

Werlen identifies the reasons for the current failure of the spatial turn in the social sciences and offers an action-centered approach to developing a constructivist geography for the digital age. His contribution includes a specific, action-related, and action-compatible theory of space that can also take account of different concepts of space for different types of action. In this conceptualization of space, the spatial dimension of action and society is related to the corporeality of the actors and to the necessity of overcoming distances between actors and the physical elements of situations and means of action. Because the actor’s body is simultaneously the key criterion for distinguishing between direct and mediated experiences and between face-to-face and mediated communication, the three main foci of this book—action, knowledge, and space—are conceptualized in a new framework, the socially constructed relations of space.

The geographer Huib Ernste illustrates in his chapter that the divorce of rationality and reason during the philosophical development of modernity led to recognition of different types of rationality, each with its own logics of deliberation and argumentation. Poststructuralists emphasize that each rationality contains multiple paradigms, each establishing its own set of principles, institutions, and lines of conflict that need to be taken into account. He demonstrates how these views are intricately involved in late-modern geographical theories of action and in language-pragmatic approaches[4] in geography.

Proponents of poststructuralist approaches emphasize the structural aspects of discourse, especially power structures. Laclau and Mouffe (1985), by contrast, try to retain and restore the possibility of deliberative interventions in these discursive structures by inverting Foucault’s power/knowledge equation. Ernste explores the extent to which this inversion reinstates responsible and rational spatial decisions and actions as a focus of research in human geography. In his view rationality could be reconstituted as a culturally contingent phenomenon, and critical geographical analysis could again contribute to concrete problem-solving, albeit in a culturally much more informed and embedded way than hitherto. Ernste also discusses geographical action theory as put forward by Werlen (1987, 1993a, 1993b, 1995, 1997, 2010a, 2010b, 2013, 2015; see also Werlen’s Chap. 2 in this volume) in the phenomenological tradition of Schutz (1932). According to that school of thought, the internal mental intentionality directed to outer objects is what ascribes meanings to these objects, as people do through their everyday place-making and everyday spatially differentiated actions. Ernste interprets this geographic action theory as the subjectivist version of what Schatzki, Knorr-Cetina, and Savigny (2001) and Reckwitz (2002) designated as the mentalist paradigm in social theory. This approach contrasts with the objectivist version of mentalism, which stems from classical structuralism.

Ernste shows that the advent of poststructuralist thinking ushered in a great reluctance to conceptualize human behavior as conscious rational actions and that the term action is generally avoided in most poststructuralist literature. Talking about practice instead of action indeed amounts to a novel picture of human agency and rationality (Reckwitz, 2008, p. 98). In contrast to Benno Werlen, with his subjective, meaning-oriented approach to geographical action theory, and unlike Zierhofer (2002), who advocated the language-pragmatic approach in geography, poststructuralist thinkers do not tend to place structures inside the mind or in pragmatic procedures of interaction but rather “outside” both—in chains of signs, in symbols, discourse, or text.

Ideologies of urban and regional planning have a powerful effect on human actions. But to what extent can social behavior be influenced or even determined by planning concepts? How can one explain the gap between intention and behavior? The geographer Gunnar Olsson describes the ideology of social engineering that predominated in Sweden in the 1950s and early 1960s, principles intended to forge a happy marriage between scientific knowledge and political action. As the affinities between totalitarian thinking and social engineering are impossible to deny, Olsson starts his narrative with the role that central place theory and location theory played in Nazi Germany. Christaller (1933) and Losch (1943/1954) were seeking a scientific method to colonize or settle a given area, especially how a set of hierarchically nested and hexagonally distributed centers should be tied together into a functional whole.

In the thought style of location theory, regional science, positivist thinking, spatial models, and social engineering, it is necessary to describe the functioning of society by mathematical calculations. In the 1950s and 1960s politically anchored experts took it as their mission to turn Sweden into a People’s Home, a state of rationality in which the maximizing principles of utilitarian ethics were institutionalized. Their intention was to capture the power of social relations in a net of scientific laws (e.g., the social gravity model) and to acquire the means for understanding the world and for changing it as well. The history of the social gravity model in regional science and of quantitative geography provides an excellent example of the ups and downs of theoretical concepts. At first the model was treated as a formulation of great explanatory power; subsequent generations have come to see it as an expression of autocorrelation. To demonstrate power-and-knowledge relations in the form of a self-referential presentation, Olsson discusses the sculpture Mappa Mundi Universalis, conceived and designed by himself and Ole Michael Jensen and exhibited in the Museum Gustavianum in Uppsala, Sweden.

A Marxist view on relations between knowledge, action, and space is presented by the geographer Richard Peet. Viewing knowledge production from a global scale, he analyzes the role of expertise[5] in financial institutions, which are now the dominant economic institutions in capitalist societies. Following Marx and Gramsci, he states that knowledge production serves a class interest and that class forces lead, direct, and control the production of knowledge. What matters in the making of history are the broad social and cultural trends in thought, imagination, and comprehension, such as political-economic-cultural ideas.

He calls the production of sophisticated, but inimical, knowledge in the financial system perverse expertise. In this expertise some of the world’s finest minds, such as professional economists, do the intellectual and practical modeling and are well paid and respected for doing so. But they accumulate knowledge in order to continue augmenting the incomes of already wealthy people, the capitalist class. In Peet’s view, critical mass reaction to financial crisis or the pending world environmental catastrophe is prevented by hegemonic control over imaginaries by a combi?nation of perverse expertise and mass social unconsciousness. The elites practice perverse expertise, and the masses lose their capacity to think rationally and respond unconsciously. Peet’s conclusion is that the intersecting economic and environmental crises will continue ad infinitum because the existing hegemonic knowledge cannot guide effective social action. Although investor confidence is presented by the business media as a neutral, technical, and necessary factor—in everyone’s best long-term interest—it is actually a committed, financial capitalist interest based on utterly biased knowledge. An instructive example is the global bond market. The interest paid on sovereign bonds is determined by the risk of default, with experts employing formulae stemming from long experience measured statistically—appar- ently scientific and necessary. Yet it is actually a few thousand experts representing the interests of accumulated capital who tell governments how to run their economies.

The next seven chapters focus on the microscale of analysis and discuss concepts, definitions, and research results from philosophy, psychology, and sociology. Psychologist Joachim Funke starts his contribution with three questions: How much knowledge is necessary for action? Is action possible without knowledge? Why do people sometimes act against their knowledge? He discusses some of the standard views on the relation between knowledge and action, specifically, the theory of planned behavior, the theory of unconscious thought, and the option-generation framework. He illustrates the delicate relation between knowledge and action with an example from problem-solving research. In Funke’s understanding, problemsolving means the intentional generation of knowledge for action instead of simple trial-and-error behavior. His studies on the MicroDYN approach, which was used in the 2012 cycle of the worldwide PISA study, demonstrate the existence of a clear connection between the generation of knowledge and action (i.e., application of that knowledge). From the angle of a problem-solving approach, the connection between knowledge and action is a classical means-end relation. It is not possible to act without knowledge, but people can act against their knowledge.

Nico Stehr, a sociologist of science, offers a sociological critique of the prevalent argument that the increasing polarization of knowledge and nonknowledge (or ignorance) has become a distinguishing feature of modernity. He acknowledges that significant asymmetries of knowledge exist and that knowledge gaps are growing, but he rejects the interpretation that nonknowledge is the opposite of knowledge. Seeking to avoid that either-or polarity as an arbitrary, theoretically and empirically unproductive antithesis, he posits knowledge instead as a context-dependent anthropological constant representing a continuum. In his view there is only less or more knowledge, and there are only those who know something and those who know something else. The practical problem is always to know how much or how little one knows in a given situation. From his perspective the key sociological question is how to address the issue of knowledge asymmetry and knowledge gaps in various spheres of modern society, such as the economy, politics, the life world, and governance. He argues that nonknowledge has, in different societal institutions, its own functional meaning. There are myriad convincing references to the virtues and advantages of ignorance, a lack or asymmetry of knowledge, and nontransparent situations.

The psychologists Ralph Hertwig and Renato Frey address the question of how different representations of knowledge shape human actions. Before choosing to act, people often try to acquire knowledge about a given situation, opportunities and risks, and possible consequences of their actions. In some cases they can draw on convenient descriptions of actions and their consequences—such as a medicine’s accompanying information on possible side effects and their probabilities. People thereby make decisions from description. In everyday life, however, there are usually no actuarial tables of risks to consult. Instead, people make such decisions in the twilight of their sampled—and often limited—experience.

Recent research in psychology has demonstrated that decisions from description and decisions from experience can lead to substantially different choices, especially where rare events are involved. Studies on modern behavioral decision-making have commonly focused on decisions from description. The observations stemming from this research suggest that humans overestimate and overrate rare events. To improve the understanding of how people make decisions with incomplete and uncertain information and how people respond to rare events that have severe consequences, Hertwig and Frey recommend study of the psychology and rationality of people’s decisions from experience. They find that people relying on knowledge from experience behave as though rare events are attributed less impact than they deserve, relative to their objective probabilities. These two researchers review the literature on this gap between description and experience and consider its potential causes and explanations, arguing that research on description-based behavior should not be played off against research on experience-based behavior, that the contrast between the two types is enlightening. These observations are not contradictory; they describe how the mind functions in two different informational environments.

In recent years many psychologists have proposed that action (social behavior) is affected by two interacting systems—the reflective system and the impulsive sys- tem—that are operating according to different principles (for an overview of the literature, see Smith & DeCoster, 2000; Strack & Deutsch, 2004, 2007). “The reflective system generates behavioral decisions that are based on knowledge about facts and values, whereas the impulsive system elicits behavior through associative links and motivational orientations” (Strack & Deutsch, 2004, p. 220). The psychologists Anand Krishna and Fritz Strack focus in their chapter on the striking duality of (a) actions planned with reflective, deliberate thought and (b) actions caused by spontaneous impulses. First separately evaluating the characteristics of reflective and impulsive styles of thinking, Krishna and Strack find that the reflective system operates according to propositional principles; it is flexible, it requires effort and motivation, and its operation is typically conscious. The impulsive system operates according to associative principles; it is inflexible, effortless, always active, and capable of operating unconsciously.

Building on existing theories of rational thought as well as impulse, impulse control, and implicit attitudes, the authors propose an integrative model of thinking and action—the reflective-impulsive model (RIM)—to show when which system of thought will be active and under what circumstances they will influence behavior. The rational and rule-based reflective system is slow and driven by working memory capacities and arousal, which set limits for its ability to process information. The impulsive system can be thought of as long-term memory and therefore has functionally unlimited capacity.

In their RIM model Krishna and Strack describe how the reflective and impulsive systems interact during the process of thought. When the reflective system operates, it operates in parallel with the impulsive system, not in place of it. When a reflective operation begins, perceptual input has already activated several associative elements. The purpose of the RIM is to provide an answer to the central question of how the two mental processes are linked to behavior and especially how they interact through behavioral schemata.

The psychologists Frank Wieber and Peter M. Gollwitzer examine the role that spontaneous and strategic planning have in turning an individual’s knowledge into action. They point out that knowing which goal one intends to pursue and committing oneself to that goal are only the first step toward successful goal attainment. Planning when, where, and how to act with implementation intentions[6] has proven to be an effective self-regulation strategy for reducing the intention-behavior gap. The authors introduce specific if-then plans for when, where, and how to act, and they discuss how such implementation intentions support goal attainment.

They highlight the importance that the accessibility of goal-relevant knowledge has for spontaneously formed implementation intentions. As for strategically formed implementation intentions, they point to the importance of systematically selecting goal-relevant knowledge and translating it into implementation intentions by using the self-regulation strategy called Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions. The authors discuss the interplay of automatic and reflective processes and suggest that strategically planning the automatic activation of goal-relevant knowledge can support reflective decision-making and goal-directed actions through use of context-sensitive reminders. Goal systems are introduced as a conceptual framework because they address the question of how goals can increase the accessibility of knowledge about when, where, and how to pursue the goal.

The authors discuss a recent experimental study suggesting that such strategic planning is very useful in unstructured situational contexts that require identification and selection of appropriate goal-relevant knowledge. They further suggest that strategic planning is less useful in structured situational contexts that prompt goal- directed actions without requiring any knowledge about advantageous opportunities to act and about potential obstacles. One of their main findings is that combining mental contrasting and implementation intentions in order to extend planning has proven more effective than either mental contrasting or implementation intentions alone.

Two chapters present a philosophical perspective on knowledge and action. Philosopher Tilman Reitz gives an overview of the broad range of philosophical positions on the essence of knowledge. He argues that the social sciences largely lack a well-considered definition of knowledge, whereas philosophical debates about such a definition usually fail to include discussion of the social constitution of knowledge. In his view both approaches have overlooked or repressed a theoretical challenge: the spatial dispersion of social knowledge. He presents a concept of knowledge that is both philosophically transparent and empirically helpful for understanding basic structures of the knowledge society. Following a pragmatic epistemology, he is interested in the question of which understanding of knowledge makes sense in what kind of everyday circumstances. In his view the nature of knowledge also depends on its social organization. Do people talk about the knowledge of individuals, of collectives, or rather of knowledge incorporated in a set of rules? He is interested in changes in the organization and dispersion of epistemic practices and in delocalized and resituated knowledge in the digital information age, when new information technologies will have huge practical and epistemic effects. Encoded information or data can be automatically processed without the intervention of human agents. Stock market programs buy and sell shares, police software identifies dangerous persons, and semantic tools browse scientific data bases. Such operations involve neither beliefs nor truth and justification; no emotion, prejudice, or thought style interferes with them. But they trigger a number of new problems and new research questions.

The philosopher Peter Gardenfors, in support of his central hypothesis that semantic knowledge is organized into domains, presents a model of domain-oriented language acquisition. He defines a domain as a set of integral dimensions separable from all other dimensions. Basic domains are cognitively irreducible representational spaces or fields of conceptual potential. The author proposes conceptual spaces as appropriate tools for modeling the semantics of natural language. A conceptual space is defined by a number of perception-based quality dimensions that represent perceived similarity.

He offers linguistic evidence for the hypothesis that it becomes easier to learn new words within in a domain once it has been established. During the first formative years of life, a child acquires semantic knowledge prior to syntactic knowledge. Once the child has learned a word designating a color, for instance, other color words will be learned soon after. It is easier to explain to a 4-year-old the meaning of the color term mauve than to explain abstract monetary terms like inflation that are not yet within the child’s semantic reach. The author explains why grasping a new domain is a cognitively much more difficult step than adding new terms to an already established domain.

A central hypothesis of Gardenfors’s chapter is that many of these domains are closely connected to the development of intersubjectivity. The author defines intersubjectivity as “the sharing and representing of others’ mentality.” If somebody shares the emotions, attention, desires, intentions, beliefs, and knowledge of others, the exchange of knowledge is relatively unproblematic.

Ariane Berthoin Antal and Victor Friedman—both experts on organizational learning with an interest in artistic intervention—investigate the relationship between physical space and processes of creative thinking and action. They point out that the importance of bodily ways of knowing has long been obvious to artists and neuroscientists but that organizational researchers misplaced corporeality for many years and have only recently begun to retrieve it by drawing on notions of aesthetics. The aesthetic approach to studying human behavior can reveal the roles the body plays in reading a context. The authors argue that connecting aesthetic approaches to the analysis of the construction of social space enriches the understanding of the relational processes of generating shared meaning and agreeing on how to behave in the current situation. They stress that people use all their senses to seek cues to make sense of and orient their behavior and that the body thereby also participates in deciding and signaling to others which rules of the game to adopt for the situation at hand (Edenius & Yakhlef, 2007).

This study was set in a region characterized by chronic socioeconomic underdevelopment and deep intergroup divisions, especially between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Berthoin Antal and Friedman were interested in promoting a process in which people could (a) bring up problems, ideas, and visions, (b) meet others with whom to learn and to collaborate on issues of common concern, (c) work together to create innovative, viable projects and enterprises to meet human and economic needs, and (d) create and enact shared visions of regional development that promotes inclusiveness and interdependence rather than competition and divisiveness. In a series of videorecorded action experiments[7] conducted in a fine-arts studio, the two researchers asked the participants to think about how they would use the space of the studio to combine processes of social entrepreneurship, conflict engagement, and the arts in ways that would connect the college with the community and contribute to regional development.

The analysis of the video recordings illustrates how physical space becomes a part of social space by entering human perception and then being acted upon and shaped by people. The authors identified seven distinct configurations[8] of social space that changed over time as the participants engaged in the task. One of the striking outcomes of their video analysis was that commonalities existed across the sessions in terms of the knowledge-production processes. The fundamental structural similarity of the configurations allows the authors to formulate key insights into the relationships between space, action, and knowledge generation. The study confirms the value of separating visual from verbal analysis.

The final two chapters investigate knowledge (cognitive capacities, rationality) and mobility in space. Thomas Widlok—a social anthropologist—studies the relationship between rationality and action in a hunter-gatherer society. The prime cognitive challenge in this context is human practical reasoning about movement: the decision to go or to stay. Based on ethnographic work with various groups of mobile hunters and gatherers in southern Africa and Australia, the chapter presents an investigation of rationality and action from the standpoint of human mobility in space. It begins with a critical assessment of probabilistic rational choice models of mobility and decision-making and suggests that more promising approaches are informed by work on the pragmatics of dialogues and on abductive reasoning. Rationality in that view is no longer a purely mental phenomenon, for it is distributed across social practice and is partially contained in features of the environment that western philosophy has long dismissed as irrelevant for understanding human rationality.

The psychologists Heidrun Mollenkopf, Annette Hieber, and Hans-Werner Wahl document that relations between intention and action (mobility in space) are not immutable in the course of a person’s life cycle. Age, mental and physical handicaps, personal resources, environmental conditions, and other factors can separate actions from intentions. The authors study this issue by interviewing older adults about their out-of-home mobility three times over 10 years. They analyze the subjective meaning of mobility over time; perceived changes in mobility and perceived reasons for such change; the course of satisfaction in various mobility domains and with life in general; and interindividual variation. Perceived changes point to experiences of major loss in the array of mobility and decreasing satisfaction with mobility possibilities, out-of-home leisure activities, and travel. At the same time, the authors find that satisfaction with public transport is increasing among older adults. The findings of this study confirm that out-of-home mobility remains of utmost importance when people move from late midlife into old age.

  • [1] For an overview of different concepts and definitions of knowledge, see Abel (2008), Meusburger(2015c), Stehr (1994, 2005), Stehr and Meja (2005), and Reitz (Chap. 11 in this volume). Reitzdistinguishes between knowledge as a systematic set of applicable recipes, knowledge as an organized body of theoretical statements, and knowledge as a developed capacity for situatedproblem-solving.
  • [2] The role of knowledge in organizations was the focus of volume 6 in this series (Berthoin Antalet al., 2014) and will be discussed in volumes 11 and 13 as well.
  • [3] The hitherto most convincing theoretical way to integrate the spatial dimension into the field ofaction research is also the narrowest and is of only limited use in social and cultural studies—thatis, embedding metric space in locational decision-making theory applied to action models basedon rational choice.
  • [4] Pragmatics is “a branch of linguistics dealing with language in its situational context, includingthe knowledge and beliefs of the speaker and the relationship and interaction between speaker andlistener” (“Pragmatics,” 2010).
  • [5] Peet (Chap. 5) defines expertise as high-quality, specialized, theoretical, and practical knowledgeand regards it as the junction of knowledge and action.
  • [6] Implementation intentions refer to specific plans in which individuals and groups can, by usingan if-then format, specify when, where, and how they intend to act.
  • [7] By the term action experiments they mean having participants develop and actively try out ideastogether in a given space, recording the process, then analyzing it as a basis for ensuing steps.
  • [8] They use the term configuration in four senses: (a) the participants’ positions in the room andrelative to each other during a specific period of time, (b) the observable interactions of the participants among each other and with materials in the room, (c) the observable application of behavioral rules, and (d) the creation of shared meaning (to the extent it can be inferred from the group’sobservable behavior and outputs). The seven configurations they identified were Orientation,Meeting Mode, Expansion, Creation, Reflection, Exhibition, and Rehearsal.
 
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