How do we define ‘knowledge’ in a postindustrial society equipped with new media, instantaneous communication technologies and universal access to information? Who controls its transmission? How can scientific knowledge be legitimated?These are the questions Lyotard asks in The Postmodern Condition. He believes that the method of legitimation traditionally used by science, a philosophical discourse that references a metanarrative, becomes obsolete in a postmodern society. Instead, he explores whether paralogy may be the new path to legitimation.
I. The Field: Knowledge in Computerized Societies
The nature of knowledge itself is shifting from being an end in itself to a commodity meant to be repackaged and redistributed. In order to be valuable, learning must be able to be reformatted into these packets of information in computer language, so that they can be sent through that channel of communication. Today, we increasingly hear the words “knowledge economy” and “information society” to describe the era we are entering. As was always the case, knowledge is power. Now, in an increasingly complex world, those with the ability to sort through the vast amounts of information and repackage it to give it meaning will be the winners. Technologies continue to solve problems that were formerly the source of power struggles between nations (i.e. the need for cheap labor is diminished by the mechanization of industry, the need for raw materials is reduced by advances in alternative energy solutions), and so control of information is most likely to become the 21st century’s definition of power.
2. The Problem: Legitimation
The definition of knowledge is determined by intertwining forces of power, authority, and government. Leotard draws a parallel between the process of legitimation in politics and of those in science: both require an authority figure or “legislator” to determine whether a statement is acceptable to enter the round of discourse for consideration. In an increasingly transparent society, this leads to new questions: