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Renewal of the Sociology of Knowledge.

Renewal of the Sociology of Knowledge

Tim Dant, Knowledge, Ideology & Discourse: A Sociological Perspective (New York: Routledge Revivals, 2012), ISBN-10: 0415615828, Pages 254.


This student textbook brings together a wide range of theoretical issues in social theory, but its main contribution is to the field of sociology of knowledge. Traditional problems of the discipline are analyzed from a new perspective. Chapters of the book progressively introduce the main effort of the author-his intent to show that sociological analysis of knowledge and ideology is possible through the empirical analysis of discourse. In this respect, the author develops a sustained argument for the sociology of knowledge and its renewed relevance in contemporary sociology.

The central claim of the author is that knowledge, ideology and discourse are social processes that are inextricably linked. Discourse is the form in which knowledge appears as empirical and social phenomenon. At the same time, the process of discourse has ideological effects because the lived relations are rendered into representations in language and can be traced within utterances, where those relations are simplified and transformed. For that reason, the discursive analysis proposed by Dant is oriented to practical and empirical problems in sociology of knowledge and concerned with the contents of discourse that are related to the world of experience and action.

The point of departure for the analysis is definitions of knowledge, ideology and discourse, where knowledge is the construal of the relation between abstract entities that are taken to represent the world of human experience. Here, knowledge is shared by humans through communication for the purpose of understanding both the experience of the world and for guiding actions (p.5). Discourse is the material content of utterances exchanged in social contexts that are imbued with meaning by the intention of utterers and treated as meaningful by other participants. Exchange of meaning is a social action and is introduced as a way of empirical analysis of the process of knowledge, ideology and discourse. However, because it is taken as a theoretical category, discourse does not do the same work as knowledge or ideology, but it does describe an empirical phenomenon where knowledge and ideology are effectively produced (p.195). The concept of ideology has been developed by Dant to describe the management of contradictions involved in the social process of knowledge. The distinction between ideology as 'false knowledge' and science as 'true knowledge', according to Dant's analysis, becomes unsustainable (p.233). Instead, ideology became a relational concept used for situating human beings in their social and material context.

In developing his arguments, Dant examines Karl Mannheim's contribution to the sociology of knowledge and abstracts a part of his program as well as his central thesis that knowledge is (at least partially) determined by the social configuration in which it emerges. Dant also traces the development of the theory of ideology in the Marxist tradition, as well as in the literature of the inheritors of Mannheimian tradition. Furthermore, Dant shows how discourse has become the central focus for the structuralist writers who began the process of analysis of knowledge through the studies of various cultural forms. He also gives an overview of modern analysis in sociology of science, critical linguistics, cultural studies and feminist critique of knowledge, stating that despite variations, all have dealt with an empirical object that has taken form as discourse.

The analysis is deepened by examination of the aforementioned approaches to the construal of discourse as an empirical object and of methodological problems of constitution of an object for study in sociology of knowledge. The final chapters of the book reveal that the project of the sociology of knowledge no longer seems so frightening. Dant believes that the debate about the concepts of the discipline can be mounted within it (p.232) and he recommends a method of discourse analysis which will empirically ground sociological analysis of knowledge and ideology in discourse.

Ultimately, the book advances synthesis of previous theory with new observations on the possibilities of empirical analysis in the sociology of knowledge. Although it is partly written at the elementary level of an introduction to the sociology of knowledge and as an overview of such a vast field, it is replete with the most promising advances, both theoretically and empirically. Those who believe that knowledge is a deficient and precious resource for the shaping of theory and practice will welcome this book about issues that may affect us all.

Reviewed by Dusan Ristic, University of Novi Sad, Serbia
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Author:Ristic, Dusan
Publication:Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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