Rhetorical Determinism

Monk, John (2001). Rhetorical Determinism. In: 5th Conference of the European Sociological Association, 28 Aug - 1 Sep 2001, Helsinki, Finland.


Economists included knowledge their models to improve their explanatory accuracy. A major step was to describe the production of knowledge as well as its exploitation as an internal part of economic models. Politicians prefer to talk about a new kind of economy so they can sustain the myth of progress. Rather than explain economies using a new model they try to leave economic history intact while describing the future using the new and different model. Once the knowledge economy became a progressive new entity and embedded in political rhetoric at the highest level, institutions competing for resources have to adopt the vocabulary and redefine themselves as knowledge organisations. As more and more professions, firms and organisations described their activities in terms of the new knowledge economy, so performatively the knowledge economy became part of political reality. Knowledge is metaphysical. If it has any kind of existence then it is embodied and projected through the skills of the knowers. Since technology connects with all human activity, the reformulation of institutions and priorities demands changes to descriptions of what technology is. Knowledge is at one end of a spectrum. Whim is at the other end. It makes little difference to economic models what the algebraic terms are called. Talk of the knowledge economy is therefore simply a way of saying our cultures and therefore our technologies are dynamic.

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