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The availability of knowledge

January 13, 2012

All knowledge is available to the individual who reasonably seeks it – such is an important assumption of the liberal Western education system. Indeed, Western knowledge and colonization are both premised on the ideal of making visible the entire natural and social world. But the accessibility of all knowledge to all people is not a view shared by indigenous peoples such as Maori, for whom access to certain knowledge must be actively granted. Knowledge comes with particular responsibilities and powers, and therefore is not necessarily made available to those who simply ‘want to know.’ [Note 39]

The modernist project of mapping the world, rendering it visible and understood, that is, accessible – is an expression of a Western desire for coherence, authorization, and control, and in my view can also be seen as central to white desire for racial harmony and dialogue. In education, the cultural assumption common among us, the dominant or colonizer group, is that unfettered access to the other through ‘understanding’ is integral to a modern, progressive, multiethnic education system and society. (There are clear resonances here with traditional anthropology’s exploration/invasion of other cultures, in order to ‘understand’ them.)” (311)

“Faced with the seemingly inevitable entanglement of benevolence, desire, and colonization, liberal and radical Pakeha have little choice but to engage in the hard work of learning about their and our own histories and social privileges in relation to ethnic others, and to embrace positively a ‘politics of disappointment’ that includes a productive acceptance of ignorance of the other.[Note 48] The ongoing crisis of representation in Western thought has meant abandoning the unalloyed right to know, and accepting that all forms of knowing and understanding of the other, and indeed all subjects and objects, are characterized by uncertainty. As a result, some suggest, ‘disappointment – of certainty, clarity, illumination, generality – is both a choice and an inevitability; something to be both resigned and committed to,’ not (or not only) as a state of resignation about the impossibility of fully coming to know the other, but ‘as a strategic act of interruption of the methodological will to certainty and clarity of vision’ and the colonizing impulses that attend it.[Note 49]

For dominant groups, particularly scholars and students accustomed to knowing and to having access to knowledge, a recognition (even acceptance) of one’s not knowing, or of limitation, seems extremely difficult, even dubious. The usual twin of ignorance is prejudice, and the longing for knowledge within a radical educational context has been understood as a desire for an enlightened acceptance of multiplicity. But the insatiable desire for knowing also has its imperialist moments, as I have argued. Dialogue in the multiethnic classroom is fraught with such dangers.” (315)

Ref: (emphases in bold green, mineAlison Jones (1999) ‘The Limits of Cross-Cultural Dialogue: pedagogy, desire, and absolution in the classroom’ Educational Theory 49(3) Summer: 299-316

Note 39:  Jones references Smith here, noting that: “Smith, ‘Te Rapunga i te Ao Marama,’ 50 points out that for Maori, ‘some knowledge can be gained only by its being given’ and because knowledge contributes to a person’s power and status it is not given out to just anyone. Donna Haraway, Modest-Witness, @, Second-Millenium. FemaleMan-Meets-Oncomouse: Feminist and Technoscience (New York: Routledge, 1996), 180 discusses the centrality to the Enlightentment project of ‘making visible’ all things.” (footnote, Jones, p. 311)

Note 48:  In her footnote here, Jones writes: “The phrase ‘politics of disappointment’ is used by Wilson C. McWilliams, The Politics of Disappointment: American Elections 1976-1994 (New Jersey: Chatham House, 1995) to describe what he sees as the failure of the hopes of the civil rights movement and the loss of the ‘style’ and optimism of the postwar era. The same ‘politics’ might be said to characterize the ‘loss’ of the Enlightenment dream and of the ‘losses’ to dominant ethnic groups as we move into a ‘postcolonial’ era.

Note 49: In her footnote here, Jones writes: “Ian Stronach and Maggie MacLure, Educational Research Undone: The Postmodern Embrace (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1997), 4-5


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