Knowledge: Unplanned and messy

David Turnbull, in his 2000 book, “Masons, Tricksters, and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge,” explores the concept of modernity. In particular, he highlights:

“The illusory nature of one of the core tenets of modernity—that the technoscientific knowledge, upon which the concept of modernity is based, epitomises planning, rationality and order.”

David Turnbull. (2000). Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers : Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge. Taylor & Francis (p. 1).

Far from being the epitomy of planning, rationality, and order, Turnbull argues that:

“Modernity’s drive for order conceals its messy, contingent, unplanned and arational character. If we wish to rethink the way we produce knowledge and the forms of knowledge we value, we need to recognise, even celebrate, its unplanned and messy nature.”

David Turnbull. (2000). Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers : Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge. Taylor & Francis (p. 1).

It is often through cross-cultural learning that Western scholars in particular can gain a better understanding of themselves. Western culture is often forced on others but is not always so good at reflecting on its own habits and assumptions. One of these assumptions is that certain forms of science and technology represent the pinnacle of human progress. This can make these forms of science and technology seem planned, predictable, and inevitable – when in fact they are unpredictable, highly local, and dependent on opportunity in order to come to fruition. Hence the argument for recognizing and celebrating the unplanned, messy, incomplete nature of scientific knowledge, and valuing multiple knowledge systems and the expertise they bring to bear on human understandings of the world.

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