Technologies of Knowing: A Proposal for the Human Sciences / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 87%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (17) from $1.99   
  • New (5) from $8.82   
  • Used (12) from $1.99   


In this age of ever more powerful computers, our ability to collect and spread knowledge is growing at an exponential rate. Far from liberating humanity, our "information exasperation", as John Willinsky describes it in this pathbreaking book, has made our ability to reach conclusions about the world around us all the more difficult. With little order to guide us through the mountains of new information in the Internet, the public, as well the sciences that have amassed such knowledge, has little confidence in its potential to change the world for the better. For example, the overload of conflicting new findings in breast cancer research has so paralyzed progress that some researchers now recommend that women stop examining themselves to avoid the psychological burden of monthly searches for this deadly disease.While some critics have condemned computers and the Internet for putting us in this age of overflow and still others have praised them for their own sake, Willinsky takes a middle ground. Using the fictitious Automata Data Corporation as the vehicle for an ingenious thought experiment, he plays out what would happen if all information collected from social science research were centralized, catalogued, and processed by one company serving the public interest. Willinsky describes in great detail how such an entity could work to fulfill the promises of the human sciences and technology.

Sure to stir debate, Technologies of Knowing offers a starting point from which to rethink our understanding of our emerging "wired" world and adds new insight into how to make the uses of knowledge more democratic.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
There seems to be more and more information about smaller and smaller things. This is especially true in the social sciences - that vast, sprawling landscape comprised of anthropology, economics, political science, psychology and sociology, as well as professional schools of education, social work, business and the health sciences.

A good example of information overload is the 50 percent increase in the number of academic journals that were published between 1970 and 1990. In biology, English and psychology, journal space nearly doubled from 1972 to 1988, while the number of faculty members increased only slightly. In the area of history alone, scholars can now read more than 5,000 journals.

Given this information explosion in the social sciences, the path to getting ahead - or just keeping up - is through increased specialization: reading, researching and writing more about less. In Technologies of Knowing, Canadian professor John Willinsky explores this information epidemic in the social sciences and suggests an Internet-based system as one possible solution.

Willinsky, Pacific Press professor of literacy and technology at the University of British Columbia, argues that social sciences have failed to offer knowledge with public value. The information explosion and electronic networks have spawned volumes of undigested knowledge yet inspired few solutions for the productive use of this information.

Information production has not been matched by "an equal application of talent and energy to rendering the resulting knowledge intelligible and accessible to a broader public." The result is information that often leads to greater confusion rather than greater wisdom.

The same argument about information overload can be made for many academic areas, but Willinsky suggests the social sciences have the greatest public appeal and relevance. He argues that the social sciences can play a crucial role in democratic debate in a free marketplace of ideas. But so far, this marketplace has more resembled "an endless and overloaded flea market, full of wondrous goods" with "few apparent organizing principles governing what turns up."

Certainly, Willinsky is not the first to make these observations. What sets Technologies of Knowing apart from many other books, however, is its movement from cultural criticism to an ambitious Internet-based social engineering plan with the rather audacious goal of putting social sciences to work for the public interest. The plan involves the creation of a fictitious entity called Automata Data, a type of metacommunity Web site that utilizes such Internet technologies as relational databases, data mining and collaborative filtering to accomplish its goals. The entity would "assume responsibility for bringing greater coherence and coordination, intelligibility and access to the research and scholarship traditionally associated with the social sciences."

Willinsky finds a number of historical and contemporary models for Automata Data. For example, England's famous Royal Society in the 1600s was based on Francis Bacon's call for a New Atlantis. And, American universities were originally founded as social contracts for the public good.

Some contemporary models for Automata Data are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Academy of Sciences, the Social Science Research Council, the Educational Testing Service, the Rand Corp. and the "Valley of the Shadow" Web site, which was created by University of Virginia history professor Edward Ayers (

On the surface, Technologies of Knowing is a criticism of the shattered state of knowledge in the social sciences. But lurking in the book's subtext is the Internet and the information paradox associated with it.

On the one hand, the Net has become history's greatest producer of information, growing each day by roughly 1 million electronic pages, and many more millions of e-mail messages held together by more than a billion annotated hyperlink connections. On the other hand, it also promises to become the greatest reducer and connector of information in history.

So far, the production side of this paradox has dominated the reduction and connection side. In a segmented economic culture like the current one (as opposed to a mass economy like the old one) profit centers around growth and differentiation rather than reduction and connection.

What would happen, though, if a profit incentive was based on the number of connections made rather than the degree of differentiation achieved? What if research in the social sciences was based on incentives to reduce redundancy and to write less about more?

It's becoming clear that Internet technology can power the engine of information reduction. "Smart" agents and "infomediaries" are emerging to filter and reduce information. And promising new search engine technologies, such as IBM's Clever Project and Stanford's Google system, are attempting to eliminate information redundancy by classifying the Internet into "hub" links and "authority" links.

As members of the Clever Project like to say, the Internet's rapid, chaotic growth has resulted in a network of information that lacks organization and structure, a "global mess of previously unimagined proportions." Technology like the Clever Project and Google are taking the first stabs at cleaning up the "mess" through information connection and reduction.

More than offering a prescription, Willinsky's real goal is to stir up debate. As such, Technologies of Knowing offers a starting point from which to rethink our understanding of information overload. The author has also begun to practice what he preaches by establishing a Web site ( that may ultimately develop into a type of Automata Data.

While his message is directed primarily the academic world, those who really have the power to make his ideas a reality are the young entrepreneurs who toil in the "garages" of Silicon Valley. They can continue to cash out in a gold rush of IPOs and dot-com business plans, or they just might be motivated to build nonfictional Automata Data that create more from less.

John Fraim is president of the GreatHouse Co. in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807061077
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 2/15/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

John Willinsky is a Pacific Press Professor of Literacy and Technology at the University of British Columbia and author of any books, including Empire of Words: The Reign of the OED. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 Random News 1
2 Corporate Prospects 13
3 Information Explosion 30
4 Reading Exasperation 51
5 Social Contract 71
6 Technologies of Knowing 100
7 Enlightenment, Democracy, Knowledge 126
8 Knowledge Futures 153
Notes 173
Acknowledgments 203
Index 205
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)