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The Societal-Cognitive Functional Differentiation Between Non-knowledge and Societally Determined Knowledge Gaps

One of the self-evident realities in a modern society, with its functionally differentiated cognitive structure, is that individuals, societal groups, and societal institutions have long since given up as an illusion the wish, or the hope, for their knowledge to be self-sufficient. Limited knowledge alleviates. Knowledge is unequally distributed. As a rule, managers do not themselves have the technical knowledge of their employed laborers, engineers, or assembly-line workers.11 Despite this lack of knowledge, managers still become managers.

Knowledge gaps or incomprehensive forms of knowledge distribution, not nonknowledge, are a constitutive element of functionally differentiated societies. Asymmetrical stocks of knowledge do not lead to society’s collapse. A society’s ability to act competently is not a function of the knowledge and information of isolated individual actors. A competent actor, for instance, as a politically active citizen, need not be comprehensively informed as an individual.

A society without this fundamental limitation, without this cognitive functional differentiation, is inconceivable. No one has to know everything. But this elementary fact, which determines the way society is, does not justify the conclusion that that non-knowledge is the opposite of knowledge. A being constantly caught up in non-knowledge cannot exist. The more collective knowledge increases,

the smaller the share of all that knowledge becomes that any one mind can absorb. The more civilized we become, the more relatively ignorant must each individual be of the facts on which the working of his civilization depends. The very division of knowledge increases the necessary ignorance of the individual and most of this knowledge. (Hayek, 1960/1978, p. 26, emphasis added)

Abandoning the hope for autarkic knowledge, especially the tndividual selfsufficiency of knowledge, and giving up the conviction that knowledge is fundamentally limited (bounded) entails both costs and benefits. But the loss of autarky—inasmuch as autarky had ever existed, even in traditional societies—is never to be understood as a form of non-knowledge. Societal innovations such as the market and the scientific or political system help manage knowledge gaps (Perez, Florin, & Whitelock, 2012).

Relevant functionally differentiated scales of knowledge differ according to facets such as their respective epoch, the type of society, the pattern of societal inequality, and the interests of the dominant worldview.[1] [2] In modern complex societies the scale of knowledge is longer than in traditional societies. The distance to the sources of knowledge is often great. Personal acquaintance with the knowledge producer is not necessary. Only in exceptional cases does the knowledge that one does not have, but can obtain, include the knowledge that was necessary for the production, legitimation, and distribution of the knowledge acquired.

  • [1] Collinson’s (1994) examination of labor resistance—based on two case studies—drew on theemphasis that Clegg (1989) placed on knowledge and information of subordinates and outlinesgenerally “the importance of different forms of knowledge in the articulation of resistance” (p. 25).Collinson summarized his findings and pointed out that “specific forms of knowledge are a crucialresource and means through which resistance can be mobilized. Knowledge in organizations ismultiple, contested and shifting. Employees may not possess detailed underpinnings of certainbureaucratic/political processes, but they often do monopolize other technical, production-relatedknowledges that facilitate their oppositional practices” (p. 28).
  • [2] The concept of the scales of knowledge has a parallel in the concept of the degrees of propertyrights, which are calibrated according to the labor, need, or performance, that is, the merits, of theowner (Neumann, 2009).
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