Implicit knowledge and social capital

Essay, 2004

9 Pages, Grade: HD


Table of content

1 Introduction

2 Classic: Implicit knowledge by Michael Polanyi

3 Continuation: Viewpoints of selected social theories

4 Conclusion: Social capital and implicit knowledge

5 References

1 Introduction

The Brundtland report introduced in the 1980's the terminus Sustainability. In this term there is obviously much more included as simply eco friendly or environmentally sound. In the first instance, the term focuses on the discussion about the dealing with resources for the following generations. The popular three-pillar model of Sustainability illuminates that the idea of sustainability orientates besides on ecological as well on economical and on social criteria. Obviously, the former on environmental-ecological issues restricted theme is widened on social concerns.

This paper focuses on the social sphere of sustainability. The participation in the net of social relations is the wholeness of the actual and potential resources and is called social capital (Bourdieu 1992). A developed social capital is needed to make a 'strong' democracy (Barber 1984) work; a form of democracy that involves extending and enriching the present system of representative democracy through participation of interested citizens in the policy making process, strengthening a culture of deliberation and discussion, such that politics is seen as a communal learning process rather than a rivalry between fixed interests.

It will be shown that the relationships between people are the bearer of social capital. These relationships, the core of the social, are formed by non-explicit knowledge. Non-explicit knowledge is widely accepted as a matter of course however, in it's meaning strongly underestimated. So, this paper starts with a classic of implicit knowledge (↑ 1) and continues by widening this concept into the social sphere (↑ 2). Finally, it brings together the concept of non-explicit knowledge with social capital and stresses its importance for sustainability (↑ 3).

2 Classic: Implicit knowledge by Michael Polanyi

The difference of explicit/implicit plays a central role in the works of Michael Polanyi. He develops the idea of implicit, "tacit" knowledge by dealing with the strong faith in science of the Soviet Marxism and with the positivistic self-image of the western scientists. His ideas he first formulated in his book "Science, Faith and Society" (1946). In which he shows that the nature and validity of scientific knowledge is not only explainable through strict explicit operations, but that there are 'underlying' forms of dependency and determinedness. They are existentially required and are effective implicitly and tacitly.

In the following book "The Personal Knowledge" (1978) he tries in particular to work out the (cognitive-) psychological foundations for this. That knowledge is more than the sum or integration of the single characteristics, he illuminates at the example of the recognition of human faces. He refers to the unconsciously accompanying tendency to build coherent structures and uniformed forms. Because of this tendencies to grasp forms or shapes that the so-called 'blind-spots' are not temporary deficits but necessary features. These ideas are confirmed by the Gestalt psychology and physiological research, for example from Maturana and Varela (1980).

In his third book "The Tacit Dimension" (1967) his deliberations are balanced and two new accents are set. The role of the body and the meaning of the social as emergent level are stressed. Tacit knowing is not necessarily 'personal' stipulated knowledge, but it comprises components 'under' our own content of thinking that we register only indirect and in passing. It is as it were a part of our body. That is the explanation why "we know much more than we can tell". (Polanyi 1967, p. 14)

One could object to it that we only needed to make explicit the inexpressible, the subliminal, or the implicit in order to integrate it then. But such an unspoilt clarity of complex state of affairs and keenness on detail prevent the grasping of the meaning. The farcon de parler that somebody does not see the wood because of all the trees touches on this matter. The massage is: explicit integration cannot substitute the implicit. That implies the strong statement that the process of formalization of knowledge in a sense of exclusion of the elements of implicit knowledge will destroy itself. (Polanyi 1967, p. 27)

The social aspect is added when Polanyi describes the situation of two persons in which one tries to understand the skilful movement of the hand of the other. Person [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten] produces a complex entity, for example Michelangelo a statue, by coordinating his movements and empathizing with his body and the stone. Person☺ understands the movements because she empathizes herself with the movement and connects it mentally that comes near to the pattern of movement of [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]. Not the registration of the single activities but the empathizing of one with the other allows understanding. The amount of the single movements can only be understood if there is a instance assumed that ensures the coherence, so a person or subject. Again, it is not observed the decisive characteristics of the gestures and movements in detail but under a viewpoint of an integral action. Also, this social understanding requires not the explicitly of all gestures, but happens subliminal, because we already have a treasure of practical knowledge. The miracle of sociality -one might conclude - is hidden that on a new emergent level there are created shapes and arrangements that cannot be explained by single features of the underlying level. An example that illuminates that a good writing style develops from the explicit rules of a correct grammar, however it is not possible to derive the good style from the rules of the grammar.


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Implicit knowledge and social capital
Murdoch University  (Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy)
Self, Sustainability and Society
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Non-explicit knowledge is widely accepted as a matter of course however, in it's meaning strongly underestimated. So, this paper starts with a classic of implicit knowledge and continues by widening this concept into the social sphere. Finally, it brings together the concept of non-explicit knowledge with social capital and stresses its importance for sustainability.
Implicit, Knowledge, Social, Capital, Self, Sustainability, Society
Quote paper
Stefan Krauss (Author), 2004, Implicit knowledge and social capital, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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