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Knowledge as Value:   Illumination Through Critical Prisms
Edited by Ian Morley and Mira Crouch
222 pp.
Rodopi Press. US$74.00
ISBN: 9042024380

“Academic development,” write essayists Tai Peseta and Catherine Manathunga, “is not immune from delineating a project or outlining a narrative for itself.” In fact, according to the contributors to Knowledge as Value: Illumination Through Critical Prisms, such a project is necessary if one is to understand the role of universities and of knowledge itself in today’s world. Editors Ian Morley and Mira Crouch explain that knowledge “is not a self-evident concept,” but rather one whose meaning has changed in recent decades in such a way that it calls into question the very value of a liberal arts education. With a focus on Australia and New Zealand, the authors raise questions about the worth of a traditional liberal arts education if it does not qualify students for employment in an increasingly technological economy.

Knowledge as Value is the fiftieth volume in the At the Interface series, a project that explores “the explicit and implicit understandings of the place of knowledge in contemporary society.” In addition to questioning the role of a traditional liberal arts education, the authors in this volume consider the relevance of university education and whether the Internet makes more knowledge available while also decreasing the ability to understand collected information.

Grant Duncan’s essay, “Counting the Currency of Knowledge: New Zealand’s Performance-Based Research Fund,” seeks to “illustrate how up-to-date knowledge as a commodity may begin to act in a manner that resembles money,” thereby creating a new “knowledge economy” that is more technical and less dependent on the humanities. Duncan argues that the humanities are an increasingly outmoded “economy” in which knowledge is valued for its own sake and that this non-monetary valuation has now been replaced with an economy in which knowledge is only valuable insofar as it has direct economic value. Francine Rochford develops this idea further, arguing that Australia and New Zealand currently see education as “a contribution to productivity, not as a part of the general personal growth of the individual nor the general progress of humankind.” This departure from historical understandings of education signals a need for careful deliberation about whether universities will continue to be relevant if they do not rethink the notion that learning is meaningful for its own sake. Today’s students are increasingly goal focused, and many prefer to engage only in learning that leads directly to employment.

Other contributors, such as Ian Morley and S. Ram Venuri, explore how use of the Internet has changed students’ access to knowledge, giving them new access to the economic power that knowledge brings to its possessors. Venuri also questions the effect the Internet has had on the quality of student-produced research, as does Ian Morley in his essay, “The Internet, the Knowledge Product, and the Craft of History.”

In the bigger picture, one wonders whether the conversation about the epistemological role of universities is so far removed from the non-academic world that the conversation itself is meaningless in the face of the economic pressures that have been challenging the centuries-old traditional model of universities. Is the university as we know it destined to become an archaic form because the forces that produced it have changed so radically in the course of history?

Knowledge as Value is written for an academic audience, and it touches on issues that have concerned universities and their place in post industrialist capitalist economies for decades. The essays included explore diverse topics, including hip-hop, nursing, and the importance of classical learning. Academics worldwide struggle to adapt to new technologies and changing workplace demands, and books such as this one make an important contribution to the project of rethinking the purpose of a traditional liberal arts university system. In addition to the writers already mentioned, contributors to this volume include John McDonald, Grant Duncan, Stephen Healy, Graham Chia-Hui Preston, Mireta von Gurlach, Mark Rolfe, Matthew Steen, Craig Collins, Heather McKenzie, Maureen Boughton, Lillian Hayes, and Sue Forsyth.

Elizabeth Breau, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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