Identifying a range of features associated with this new mode – reflexivity, transdisciplinarity, heterogeneity – the authors illustrate the connections between these features and the changing role of knowledge in social relations. While the main focus is on research and development in science and technology, the book outlines the changing dimensions of social scientific and humanities knowledge. The relations between the production of knowledge and its dissemination through education are also examined.
The New Production of Knowledge places science policy and scientific knowledge in its broader context within contemporary societies. It will be essential reading for all those concerned with the changing nature of knowledge, the social study of science, educational systems, and with the relations between R&D and social, economic and technological development.
Helga Nowotny shows how research can thrive on the cusp of uncertainty. Science continues to transform uncertainties into certainties but this certainty always remains provisional. Uncertainty is never completely static – it is constantly evolving. It encompasses geological timescales and, at the level of human experience, split-second changes as cells divide. It appears at unexpected moments, it shuns the straight line, takes the oblique route and sometimes the unexpected shortcut – such is the cunning of uncertainty. The more we acknowledge the cunning of uncertainty, the less threatened we feel by it. We accept that any scientific inquiry must produce results that are provisional and uncertai. This message is vital for politicians and policy makers: do not be tempted by small, short-term, controllable gains to the exclusion of uncertain, high-gain opportunities.
The Cunning of Uncertainty is a must-read for students and scholars in all disciplines, politicians, policy makers and anyone concerned with the fundamental role of knowledge and science in our societies today.
The world is a complex and difficult place, and getting ever more so. Given all the uncertainty, how can we plan for the future, live flourishing lives, and not simply melt into a puddle of helpless anxiety?
Nowotny discusses many forms of uncertainty – ecological issues, sociology, the rapid changes in technology, and more – and discusses how we might cope with, and even embrace the opportunities afforded by, uncertainty.
One approach is to reduce uncertainty. And one way to do that is through promises, a way of “bringing the future into the present”, nailing it down, and increasing what we can predict and rely on. Another way to reduce uncertainty is to constrain the future, through rules and regulations that reduce options.
Uncertainty can be embraced, however, because it demonstrates that the future isn’t fixed: we have an opportunity to influence it through our actions, and there is room for change, potentially for the better. Uncertainty can be a creative resource.
Uncertainty leads to worry. Nowotny argues that worrying can be a useful response to complexity, and to over-confidence:
One thing she worries about is in fact the ever increasing range and scope of possibilities opening up to us, making our choices seem ever more arbitrary and meaningless:
In the end, Nowotny suggests that the process of “muddling through”, an incremental and adaptive response to the current situation, may be the best we can do. This is a wide-ranging and important book, thought-provoking reading for anyone living in a complex uncertain world.