Limiting Knowledge Production


Now why would anyone want to do that?

The field of sustainability studies can be seen as being about two things: limits and technology. We are concerned about sustainability because we fear that we are approaching (or have already surpassed) one or another limit, economic, social, or environmental. Technology, on the other hand, is the great get out of jail free card that suggests that we might be able to invent ourselves out of the need to recognize any kind of limits.

Why would we want to apply the point to the academy? There are two potential reasons–either we academics have some intra-academic reason to do so, or because there is outside pressure to do so. I suspect that very few academics have any interest in limiting knowledge production–a fact that I find a little confusing, since my own personal reaction is that we are drowning in the stuff. Nonetheless, academics are evidently entertained by their particular areas of research and want to do more of it in an autonomous fashion. Moreover, the entire superstructure of the academy is based on constant growth, seen in the fact that each professor seeks to clone him or herself many times over.

That leaves external pressures. There are reasons to think that the academy will have to make a rather abrupt shift to epistemic steady state. The reasons can be listed: 1) disruptive technology, 2) neoliberalism, 3) danger, 4) transdisciplinarity. Disruptive technology: MOOCs and internet-based education generally that threaten to upset the economic model of the academy. Neoliberalism: the defunding of university systems. Danger: Bill Joy’s concerns that knowledge is becoming too dangerous. Transdisciplinarity: if knowledge is produced for use, most people do not have a need for anywhere near what is currently being produced.

Note that each of these imply a different type of limit; but each raise questions about our current program of Laissez faire knowledge production.

But how would this play out in practice?

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