Polite versus Useful Knowledge

The Urban

Here is an excerpt – that I use to portray some kinds of knowledge, design knowledge, as problematic. And sometimes entirely worthless. Much better to keep silent! This is a provocation for discussion.

Such a society was avowedly for ‘gentlemen’; and the term connotes a degree of exclusiveness. Yet there is a sense in which the object of ‘polite learning’, its cultivation and transmission, was – within reasonable limits – to include rather than to exclude. The threshold was there to be crossed and the educational means were there for those who wished to cross it. Specifically, the schools for young gentlemen (in many cases those whose parents hoped that their sons would become gentlemen) that multiplied in provincial towns and around the outskirts of the capital provided – and no doubt in some cases provided more effectively that the great anarchic public schools of eighteenth-century England – the rudiments at least of the classical culture without which it was not possible to pass muster as a gentleman.  LINK

Worthless or the Pointless knowledge is a ‘hot house’ – aka a circulation of hot air. This is a provo re – what all kinds of design knowledge fit into this? Especially if it much better to be quiet.

From the outset, and increasingly, like most such societies, the gentlemen of Spalding were particularly concerned with ‘antiquities’; but then antiquarian pursuits were emphatically part and parcel of the polite learning that was to be fostered. That this was indeed the object was explicit from the outset, the original proposal institutionalising what had for a year or two been done informally, being expressly for the establishment of ‘a Society of Gentlemen, for the supporting of mutual benevolence, and their improvement in the liberal sciences and in polite learning…’. No one, the Rules and Orders over the years repeatedly insisted, was ‘to talk politicks’ – or, it was carefully added in 1745, ‘to dispute about religion’. The ‘liberality’ of this or that ‘science’ might be a matter of some elasticity; and in the Rules and Orders of 1723 the members were urged ‘to communicate whatever is useful, new, uncommon, or curious’ (the 1745 revision has ‘useful or entertaining’) ‘in any art or science’. Nevertheless the emphasis on the ‘liberal’ and the ‘polite’ is inescapable. LINK

What is useful knowledge?

Is design knowledge that is privileged in design circles, and within industry, useful knowledge? 

Useful knowledge, or rather, the idea of useful knowledge, is central to my concept of the innovation supply chain. But what is knowledge really? And how to identify its useful portion? Obviously, I’m not the first to ask these questions, and I’m certainly not the only one. If you simply google the word knowledge, you’ll get a pretty broad set of ideas, and they are not entirely coherent. But essentially, the majority of those ideas fall into two different camps: one holds a more abstract, philosophical view, the other takes a more concrete, practical approach. LINK

By Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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