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Knowledge strategies in the age of the networks (Master's Thesis)

Knowledge strategies in the age of the networks (Master's Thesis)

An interdisciplinary attempt to see how views of knowledge are relevant to design practices and an exhibition concept about personal knowledges strategies.

Design and human knowledge

Today, designers have become a sort of mediators between society, technology, and environment. They want to enable meaningful and educating life experiences for people, find useful applications for the products of research, and last but not the least, reduce the human footprint on our planet – all at the same time. If we are willing to use an understatement, we can venture into saying that the designers’ role has evolved into a rather challenging way. In order to cope with this new situation, which also implies an extended range of responsibilities, designers may be required to explore new ways of thinking and new perspectives as well. One perspective worth inquiring is a better understanding of human knowledge as this shapes each of us deeply and designers haven’t really dealt directly with it so far.

Interdisciplinary research about knowledge

Knowledge is very deep concept that is treated by a broad range of disciplines and traditions with very different focuses.

  • Learning psychology highlights behavior patterns that are deeply rooted in human nature and that are partly shared with animals. Those patterns shape our perception, the formation of our habits and are strongly influenced by the positive as well as negative experiences we gain.
  • Transactive Memory Systems or TMS (psychology) is a concept that understands knowledge as a social or a group phenomena. It describes how knowledge progressively arises through human interactions or transactions, e.g. within couples, between a student and a professor, between a doctor and a patient or within the context of work.
  • Philosophical epistemology is an account of philosophy dedicated to the understanding of knowledge. Having a long tradition as it can be traced back to Ancient Greece, it has shaped fundamental concepts such as knowledge as a justified true belief, epistemic rationality or epistemic internalism/externalism.
  • Personal epistemology (psychology) is empirically investigating on how people construct, interpret, evaluate and justify knowledge within educational contexts. One of its main concepts are the epistemological beliefs. Those describe how someone may evolves from a simple view of knowledge (understanding it as finite, certain and handed down from authority) to a sophisticated view knowledge (understanding it as tentative, evolving and constructed by the learner).
  • Epistemology of science is analyzing the evolutions of practices and views of knowledge within the scientific world. Concepts like falsification (Karl Popper), paradigms (Thomas Kuhn), the Actor-Network Theory (Bruno Latour) are originated from this field.
  • Public understanding of science is a field related to personal epistemology that is investigating how the general public is coping with contemporary overly complex scientific and societal issues (e.g. climate change, genetic-modified food or health issues). It makes use of concepts like cognitive bias, social identity framing and conceptual changes.

Please see my theoretical work for more details and sources (in the „Material“ folder).

Knowledge and the digital infrastructure

Knowledge can be seen an intrinsic quality driven by the constant evolutions of the socio-technological landscape. With the rise of the digital networks and the algorithms as well as the introduction of a broad range of new tools and possibilities, personal knowledge practices are shifting.

The new situation is defined by the fact that knowledge is not fully framed any more by some authorities that we used to call “domain experts”: everybody is now able to “publish” and attain a very broad audience, and the amount of information available as well as its pace of development have dramatically risen. Further, the retrieval of information is driven by algorithms which internal logic remains mostly opaque or shaped by online behaviors patterns that may not truly reflect the deep complexity of human interactions (see Filter bubble). Accordingly, each of us is now in charge of judging the context he or she is embedded in and the trustworthy of the information that are encountered.

In details, I investigated very different aspects related, amongst others, to social networks, Wikipedia and Big Data.

Please see my theoretical work for more details and sources (in the „Material“ folder).

Five propositions to describe personal knowledge in the age of the networks and the algorithms

At the end of my theoretical work, I could work out five perspectives to describe what knowledge is:

We are our knowledge

  • We only access to the kind of knowledge our constitution allows to.
  • Question your knowledge, it will change your reality
  • Knowledge is unlimited. You’re are the one who decides where it begins and where it ends.
  • You know something when you understand its structure and why it is evolving.

Knowledge is uncertain

  • No one knows for sure.
  • Our world is constantly changing, our knowledge too.
  • Don’t be obsessed by the present, look forward.
  • Authority is helpful as longs as it doesn’t dictate what you have to know.

Knowledge is a social construction

  • Knowledge is as diverse as we are.
  • Neither us nor our knowledge can live alone. Interactions make the knowledge.
  • Don’t feel forced to agree all the time, knowledge arises from diversity.
  • You may have at times the illusion to know better than the others. You don’t, listen to them.

Knowledge is a human process

  • Knowledge is a never ending inquiry
  • Take risks. Failing is the first step to new knowledge.
  • Follow your intuition.
  • Embrace situation where you don’t feel comfortable.

Knowledge is a digital habit

  • Your are far more than the data resulting from your behavior.
  • You have as much personalities as social circles. Keep that way online.
  • Computer can do what you can’t do and you can do what they can’t do.
  • Question the functioning of the digital infrastructure

Knowledge and design in the society – the pioneering role of Otto Neurath

In the 1920s, Otto Neurath was interested in providing the visitors of the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in Vienna with an experience allowing them to develop a personal knowledge on how the society was organized and how they could thrive within it. The exhibitions, based on the self-developed visual language ISOTYPE, harnessed topics related to health, housing, unions and taxation.

Revisiting Otto Neurath: an exhibition concept about personal knowledge in the age of the networks

The challenges discussed in the theoretical analysis are become critical for the whole society: there is a shift from a world organized around the production of material goods to a world focused on the generation, the processing, and the distribution of information based on the knowledge emerging in the networks. Accordingly, I intended to design an exhibition based on an ISOTYPE-esque visual language, rooted in the age of the networks, that highlights the chances and challenges implied in the contemporaries personal knowledge practices.

In order to make this complex topic understandable to the public and working out directions for the conception of the exhibits, I used a practice introduced by Otto Neurath: I tried to rephrase the challenges related to personal knowledge practices into a series of questions: “How good do I understand the underlying logic of the digital tool I am using? Which information source do I trust? Which not? Why? What are my habits online? Am I satisfied about the way I am using digital tools? How dependent am I from them? What are their positive effects on me? What are their negative effects on me? Can I do something about it? Who are the people that I am following online? Where do I know them from? etc.”

Hierarchical structure

The exhibition is divided in three main areas:

  • Approaching the topic of knowledge or making the topic of the exhibition accessible to the visitors – examples of exhibits: a historical retrospection; short filmed interviews of various people on how they understand the term “knowledge”.
  • Main area
    Algorithmic area – examples of exhibits: comparison of an algorithm with a cooking recipe; a participative experience where visitors can contributes to the “construction” of an algorithm.
    Networks area – examples of exhibits: transitioning from the “flat” view of a social network profile page to its graphical networked representation; going through books vs. going online.
    Combined area: showing how algorithms and digital networks used together can frame personal knowledge.
  • Reflective phase – The visitors are invited to reflect on what they have learned and how they feel about. This phase should enable the visitors to leave the exhibition on an “easygoing” note.

Please see my theoretical work for more details and sources (in the „Material“ folder).

Sample exhibits

Ein Projekt von


Design Master


Prof. Dr. Frank Heidmann Prof. Dr. Marian Dörk


Wintersemester 2014 / 2015

zusätzliches Material