Jennifer Gidley - Abstract

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Global Knowledge Futures:
Interpreting the emergence of imaginaries that cohere


Imagination is more important than knowledge.
For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand,
imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.

Albert Einstein

We hear a lot today about the ‘knowledge economy’ yet this economistic framing grounded in neoliberal theories of “knowledge capitalism” fails to attend to the richness and diversity of knowledge creation that is emerging on a planetary scale. We also hear the term ‘information era’ as if it were a complete encapsulation of the present phase of cultural evolution. The proponents of the ‘information era’ also fail to attend to the evolutionary move beyond mere ‘information’ to new ways of knowing, new knowledge patterns and the emergence of several imaginaries of knowledge coherence. In the last few decades there has been a proliferation of new terms and concepts from the periphery of the academic landscape—all pointing in diverse ways to the need to move beyond fragmented thinking and hyper-specialisation. Such terms include holism/wholism, integral/integrative, multi-, inter-, trans- and postdisciplinary, to name a few. Some of these terms are used in specific contexts with a variety of different meanings; others claim to cover the whole of the knowledge domain. This paper aims to demystify a range of concepts, which attempt to cohere knowledge. It takes a big-picture macrohistorical lens to the new thinking and new knowledge patterns contextualising it within the evolution of consciousness discourse. Three discourses are explored: postformal studies, integral studies and planetary studies—with a fourth discourse, futures studies, being used to provide a macro-temporal framing. All of these areas of research—postformal, integral, planetary, and futures—are relatively new transversal fields, having arisen over the last five decades. In spite of the breadth and depth of these meta-theories in their own right, there is a tendency among proponents of these approaches to isolate themselves within their own discourse and not allow the cross-fertilisation that could mutually enrich their research. At best this does not enable appropriate knowledge transfer; at worst it can lead to ideological siloism—thus limiting the larger project of knowledge coherence. This paper offers a broad overview of the current landscape of postformal, integral and planetary studies, using the prospective reasoning of futures studies. In contrast to the fragmentation, commodification and instrumentalism of neoliberal knowledge capitalism, the imaginaries that cohere are grounded in human thinking faculties, such as creativity, imagination, dialogue and collaboration. These new patterns of knowledge coherence are less dependent on economic and material resources and are thus intrinsically more sustainable for a fragile planet.