Who should produce knowledge?

Students reading copies of The New Times (File)

Philosophy of education tells us that everyone is endowed with the aptitude to produce knowledge, invent and innovate to bring about social order, which traditionalists still believe is the ultimate measure of knowledge creation.

However, there have been many debates about this notion with majority relating its exodus to the west. Fine, could be west or south but realism has no room for compromise.

While addressing mourners after the death of Socrates, Plato said, “the author of knowledge is gone, he goes down with his head and uncompromising intelligence, but we know well that knowledge is labour others will build from his legacy and create an ideal knowledgeable society”.

That aside, knowledge is produced as a structure of labour that is done by sure groups of competent human resources in specific social contexts or discipline.  There is a labour process, which was initially structured by colonialism, and is currently being rationalised by neoliberal globalisation.

There is this concept, that only elites, call them educated / learned people, should be the author of knowledge. Such beliefs are not only wrong but also barbaric and very misguided ‘intellectual workers’ are not only those with a PhDs or best-selling books. Intellectual labour is often collective; it is done in institutional settings ranging from corporations to schools to churches, and can be combined with other forms of work. Besides, intellectual work is twisted into different projects of knowledge formation.

These thinkers reflect on the divisions in and the history of the societies in which they live. Often, the gender division of labour creates very different situations for women and men as producers of knowledge, a fact that is wholly recognised in feminist standpoint theory.

It is also important to recognise the different situations for intellectual workers created by the process of colonisation. In the periphery, the group closest to the intelligentsia of the metropole was the intellectual workers of settler society. To use the language of Spanish America, this is the Creole intelligentsia. Creole intellectuals are as diverse as Sor Juana, the great 17th century poet of Mexico, and all these created diverse knowledge that shaped the history and the nature of their nations.

Colonialism involved enormous violence, far and wide. Save for that, it also required an intellectual workforce to operate what Mudimbe (1988) calls the ‘colonising structure’ controlling space, integrating the economy and changing the natives’ minds. There was also a need to maintain solidarity among the settler population and adapt metropolitan culture to colonial conditions, as missionaries, teachers, surveyors, agronomists, engineers, geologists, ethnographers, poets and journalists.

The post- independent modernising intellectuals of indigenous majority states such as Nkrumah’s Ghana, Nehru and Sukarno also had to envision new social orders, including new educational and cultural projects. This has proved difficult in the face of poverty, global capitalism and neo-colonial violence.

In the era of neoliberal globalisation, therefore, the question remains the sort of intelligentsia that is sustainable in postcolonial settings that have any kind of independence from the powerful northern- centered economy of knowledge. The neo-liberal education, privatisation of higher education, the standardisation of curricula and pedagogy and the intensification of competition, all weaken an autonomous workforce.

The writer is a PhD student of Comparative Education and leadership at Beijing Normal University

pontiankbr@outlook.com

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