Notes on Edwards

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Charmed by the novelty of the first date, they miss the complexity of the marriage that ensues: the dynamics of scale, time, and adjustment by which new practices emerge.

  1. How are knowledge infrastructures changing?
  2. How do knowledge infrastructures reinforce or redistribute authority, influence, power and control?
  3. How can we best study, know, and imagine today’s (and tomorrow’s) knowledge infrastructures?

Edwards (2010) defined knowledge infrastructures as “robust networks of people, artifacts, and institutions that generate, share, and maintain specific knowledge about the human and natural worlds.”

infrastructures are ecologies or complex adaptive systems;

Because shared, reliable knowledge is among human society’s most precious resources, the institutional elements of knowledge infrastructures – such as universities, libraries, and scientific societies – have typically adopted conservative, slow-changing forms. Yet recently key elements of knowledge infrastructures, especially information technologies and communication practices, have changed very rapidly, creating a growing sense of disarray and disjuncture between established forms and new and exciting, but unproven, possibilities. This report argues for the need to consider knowledge infrastructures as wholes, rather than focusing only on their most rapidly evolving elements. It poses a series of challenges and unresolved questions as the basis for a new area of research, practice, and design. These include the changing status of expertise as knowledge becomes more open to contestation from all quarters, the shifting borders of tacit knowledge and common ground, the unrecognized complexities of sharing data across disciplines and domains, and massive shifts in publishing practices linked to new modes of knowledge assessment. The new knowledge ecologies will necessarily involve transformations of the research process: traditional institutions will adapt or die; new forms will come into being.*

As knowledge infrastructures evolve, attending to the social relations both created and broken by new modes may help societies reduce the negative distributional consequences of change.

Creating and nourishing standards and mechanisms for large-scale, long-term research in the qualitative social sciences, such as sustainable, accumulative, and shareable qualitative databases, could contribute to this goal. Improvements in qualitative data analysis software are urgently needed. New forms of cyberscholarship, such as new modes of writing or what one participant called a “knowledge zoom lens” for presenting qualitative evidence at any desired level of detail, need support and creative thought. Building better interdisciplinary collaborations across the natural and social sciences is an old goal, rarely realized — but more crucial now than ever in the face of such problems as climate change and biodiversity loss. A knowledge infrastructures perspective on the study of scholarship will promote more sustained, collective progress in research, design, and policy for 21st century scholarship.

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