Edited by John R. Bryson and Peter W. Daniels
Chapter 5: Theories of the Information Age
Nico Stehr In some way or other, any knowledge, and especially all common knowledge of identical objects, determines in many ways the speciﬁcation (Sosein) of society. But all knowledge is ultimately also conversely determined by the society and its structure. (Max Scheler, 1924 : 17) Introduction It is virtually impossible to transcend the contestation and the conﬂation of the terms ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’ in much of the discussion about the information age. However, in the context of an examination of some of the important theories of the information age, it is unavoidable to take up the contentious question of the meaning of, as well as the relation between, knowledge and information. At this juncture, the main puzzle of the theoretical discourse on the role of knowledge and information in social action is whether it is even possible and sensible to distinguish between them. The conceptual distinction between information and knowledge, which is in any case at best relative, appears to be most diﬃcult, if not impossible to sustain in the light of the fact that these notions are often employed as virtual equivalents. Many dictionaries simply deﬁne information as a certain kind of knowledge. A similar symmetry between information and knowledge is evident if one deﬁnes information as ‘knowledge reduced and converted into messages that can be easily communicated among decision agents’ (Dasgupta and David, 1994: 493). In other deﬁnitions of information and knowledge, information is simply conceptualized as a subspecies, as an element...
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