Full Text


Steve Fuller

Subject Cultural Studies
Sociology » Sociology of Culture and Media, Sociology of Knowledge

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Knowledge is relevant to sociology as the principle that social relations can be organized in terms of the differential access that members have to a common reality. Until the late eighteenth century, Plato's Republic epitomized the role of knowledge as a static principle of social stratification. However, the Enlightenment introduced a more dynamic conception, whereby different forms of knowledge could be ordered according to the degree of freedom permitted to their possessors. An individual or a society might then pass through these stages in a process of development. Thus, thinkers as otherwise diverse as Hegel, Comte, and Mill came to associate progress with the extension of knowledge to more people. However, this dynamic conception of knowledge produced a paradox: the distribution of knowledge and the production of power seem to trade off against each other. The more we know, the less it matters. Knowledge only seems to beget power if relatively few people enjoy it. The distinctly sociological response to this paradox was to jettison Plato's original idea that a single vision of reality needs to be the basis for knowledge. This response, popularly associated with philosophical relativism, asserts simply that different forms of knowledge are appropriate to the needs and wants of their possessors. The history of the sociology of knowledge is a tale of two traditions, French ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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