Books : reviews

Michael Gibbons, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott, Martin Trow.
The New Production of Knowledge: the dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies.
SAGE. 1994

In this provocative and broad-ranging work, a distinguished team of authors argues that we are now seeing fundamental changes in the ways in which scientific, social and cultural knowledge is produced. They show how this trend marks a distinct shift towards a new mode of knowledge production which is replacing or reforming established institutions, disciplines, practices and policies.

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.
The Cunning of Uncertainty.
Polity. 2016

Uncertainty is interwoven into human existence. It is a powerful incentive in the search for knowledge and an inherent component of scientific research. We have developed many ways of coping with uncertainty – we make promises, manage risks and make predictions. But the future is inherently uncertain, and the mist that shrouds our path is an inherent part of our journey. The key question for us today is whether our societies can face up to uncertainty, learn to embrace it and become more open towards a constantly evolving future.

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.