Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

B Practices of Knowledge and Non-Knowledge

In its contrast to the original title, “Narrative Theory as Cultural Theory,” the new title of this research area implies both an expansion of horizon and intensification of focus.
On the one hand, alongside narration, two other operations basic for cultural communication merit systematic treatment: demonstrating and performing. On the other hand, we intend to study narrative, iconic, and performative acts mainly in respect to the ways they shape social knowledge and non-knowledge.

All societies dispose over an elaborate set of instruments to deactivate disturbing, consensus endangering knowledge or to remove certain stores of it from discursive dispute: through conventions of avoidance, the establishment of non-challengeable evidence, taboos, sacralization. Both on the side of those who have been initiated and of those who are excluded, the binding social force of secrets is far greater than that of openly circulating knowledge; correspondingly, circumstances of rule stabilize themselves through knowledge asymmetries. Democratic societies are stamped to the same degree by the demand for transparency and certain rights to active and passive non-knowledge, a situation leading to many conflicts involving goals.

Alongside socio-structural and political determinants, historically those of a medial nature have been very important. Non-literate cultures can regulate their knowledge economies in the framework of human mnemonic limits. As soon as writing has become available, printing techniques developed, large amounts of knowledge gather as it were automatically, with other social mechanisms and practices needed so that it can be ignored. For the knowledge society of the age of the internet, the inextinguishable nature of individual user-traces in the net appears to have become a serious social and legal problem.

With the question of the normative justification of non-knowledge (among the current examples: the right to informational self-determination; the ban on torture in criminal prosecutions; the confidentiality of tax data; the arcanum of governmental activities), the theme has opened itself up to questions from the realms of law and political science. At the same time, research is needed into the functional reasons for a phenomenon as widespread as knowledge-avoidance. The important role of uncertainty in processes of political decision and distribution offers a suggestion in this respect.

In general, shared non-knowledge is an important organ for the integration and disintegration of societies and merits systematic study. Basic questions of value are at play in the regulation of abortion, assisted death, embryonic research, pre-implantation technology, sexual practices, and so forth. In order to maintain control over the connected danger of fierce social conflict, detailed information and its promulgation is often dispensed with or available knowledge denied.

Research Questions

In research area B, themes and research questions such as the following can be examined:

  • What are the salient textual, pictorial, and performative practices where a balance is negotiated between manifest and hidden knowledge, articulation and silence? What hybrid forms (tact, feigned non-knowledge, simulation and dissimulation) are taken up by which actors in which situations? What power asymmetries und effects of cultural inclusion and exclusion are generated in this manner?
  • How is latency communicated? How do open secrets function?
  • What dramaturgy prevails in scandals? Do they have socially binding or disengaging power?
  • Under what conditions do collective “non-knowledge arrangements” (repression, amnesty, a ban on inquiries and investigations) have a conflict-mitigating effect? Whend oes the contrary strategy of expanding knowledge (or working through the events), for instance by establishing truth commissions, achieve its goals?
  • Can we ascribe a truth-constitutive function to emphatic forms of non-knowledge (e.g. belief, intuition, enthusiasm)?
  • What role do processes aimed at “containing” non-knowledge (processes involving trust, probability, establishing models, calculating risk) play in respect to cultural integration and disintegration? What function does the exclusion of “outmoded” material together with pseudo-knowledge, anomalies, and errors have in the framework of epistemic self-understanding? What models have emerged for the relationship between knowledge and belief, and what is the role of religious differentiation in this regard (research area D)?
  • How is non-knowledge institutionally stabilized (see, for example, the “principal agent” theory)? How do we best explain the frequent incapacity of political institutions to learn from their errors?
  • How do modern societies deal with the paradox of increasing uncertainty through increasing knowledge (see Ulrich Beck’s thesis of a society marked by risk and non-knowledge)?
  • How is the balance between knowledge and non-knowledge displaced by new techniques (the Internet, gene diagnostics, etc.)? What legal, moral, and political consequences stem from this?
  • What are the effects of this displacement on religions and new social movements?