KICS Sharing Session: KNOWLEDGE IN AN INTERNET ERA: Role of DCs in Info-digital Society

Avinash Jha


Political Documentation in the Internet Era

Political Documentation?

The documentation centres which meet here and the activities they have been carrying out on day-to-day basis are rooted in a vision of documentation which aspires to have a political significance. They were conceived in an atmosphere of challenge to the prevailing and dominant conceptions of knowledge and also in significant ways challenged dominant conceptions of politics. These documentation centres have facilitated this contructing and reconstructing this social knowledge; this was more from the organisational knowledge but there were critiques of conceptualisation .. like say Gender Doc centres tried to create the whole universe of knowledge and the work of knowledge looks different. These were some of the challenges that documentation were rooted. We that way felt at the frontier of knowledge of politics ... now things are changed .. we are now in the era of knowledge. In this sense, we could say that they worked on the frontiers of knowledge and politics.


The situation seems to have undergone a massive change however. There is a lack of direction and the absence of a sharp and articulated understanding of the political role of documentation centres and activities. Working in such an environment, it would not be a surprise if people feel in some way to be relics of an earlier era. On the one hand the IT people are ready to jump upon them to remedy their backwardness and on the other, the academic researcher has absorbed the earlier challenges to dominant conceptions of knowledge in a strange manner and can often make the poor documentalist feel inferior. It would seem that political documentation today is an outdated idea, relegated to an insignificant, even if necessary, corner of the world of knowledge and politics. In my mind, there is no doubt that this situation is the result of massive changes the world has undergone sometimes summarily expressed under the rubric of ‘information revolution’.


The central question chosen relates precisely to this: How do we conceive of documentation in the Internet era as a politically significant activity? Is it possible for us to reassess the context of knowledge and politics and begin to imagine our activities and relevance in a manner that they again play at the frontiers of knowledge and politics and advance the vision of a radically egalitarian society?


This conception of knowledge, society and politics that is being developed in an organization and a milieu which has little to do with documentation. This should not disconcert us. New ideas, new alliances, new visions can prove invigorating for both. Personally, for me, it is a happy confluence. Being, associated with an organization called ‘Vidya Ashram’ at Sarnath, Varanasi which was established in 2005, Lokavidya is the knowledge with the people which changes with their experience, needs, change of ethical and aesthetic contexts and so on. It incorporates their way of thinking, principles of organisation, mode of abstraction etc. It is made up of a body of information, practices, techniques, expertise and what have you. Some of the roots of the thinking which has developed here lie way back in a time and place as a student. In fact, they lie in the same atmosphere of challenge to the prevailing conceptions of knowledge in which the roots of political documentation also lie. Only the emphasis in the case of documentation centres was on a critique of knowledge organization and in the other case the emphasis was on critique of modern science and reconceiving the codes which govern knowledge production and evaluation.


Of course, other kinds of analyses and views are possible and they should all be brought into debate. FOSS is an important and contentious issue and deals squarely with the issue of knowledge and freedom in the Internet era. There are ideas of cognitive capitalism being debated in Italy and France which touch upon important issues and is closely tied with movements in the university. But the basic plea is that let us put the question of knowledge at the centre of our political reflections and see where it takes us.


Knowledge and politics in the Internet era

The way we talk about knowledge would have seemed extremely odd a couple of decades ago. A certain language, or idiom, is available to us so that we can talk about production of knowledge, ownership of knowledge, power and knowledge. Social discourses are full of references to knowledge economy, knowledge society, knowledge management, and so on. Earlier, questions of knowledge were specialized questions to be dealt by epistemology or philosophy of science. Their effort was to establish and refine the foundations of knowledge and guard the boundaries of valid knowledge to protect it from pseudo-sciences and other unscientific intrusions. In the last few decades, we have come to see knowledge everywhere. It is in marketing, it is in forests among tribal communities, it is in machines.


This new idiom of knowledge seems strangely depoliticized compared to the highly politicized conceptions of knowledge which were instrumental in conceiving the idea of political documentation.


It is not meant to suggest that the age of science now is passé. Internet age takes science for granted. It is not interested in repudiating science, but rather claims to take the age of science into a more revolutionary era, the era of knowledge-based industries, i.e., industries based on the dynamics of innovation. Of course, once can dispute about the extent of the new and how much of a revolutionary change it is. But it is not just an empirical matter or a scholarly matter. We have to look at the frontline developments and form judgments. If we look at economy, society, culture, higher education, science – everywhere we find radical changes in last two decades the world over. And the underlying theme in all these we find to be the information revolution at the level of infrastructure and the knowledge revolution at level of discourse.


Can we advance a claim at a political level:

That knowledge somehow belongs to the core dynamics of what constitutes inequality in this information age. And consequently vision of an egalitarian society in the information age is based on equality of knowledge.


Can we advance a claim at the philosophical level


What is the basic characterstic of knowledge now: knowledge = digital information

Which means: knowledge = representation of knowledge

What is representation of knowledge: information

Consider software, IT – Knowledge Parks, Music


Human Being is an epistemic being.


Why this assertion may be important


  • the context of capitalism and communism [Labour & Knowledge]

  • context of colonialism and imperialism

  • Internet in a sea of poverty and violence


Lokavidya or People’s knowledge

One of the things that we are beginning to try in Vidyaashram is the 'Gyan Panchayat' - Public hearings (jan sunvai) on the world of knowledge, particularly science and the university where you get people from Scientists, researchers, people from the Govt and the common people to a common platform of knowledge.


Knowledge is subject to machineries of violence and profit. How can knowledge be emancipated from this subjection?


Knowledge is not for profit.

It is for livelihood, culture & liberation

All traditions of knowledge deserve equal treatment and respect


Knowledge is powerless. How can people gain strength when their knowledge is respected and they are able to earn their livelihood based on their knowledge.




Avinash had been the main documentalist at CED for many years, particularly when we started the early process of digital documentation. The development of many of the classifications particularly the one on new information and media, have been developed by him. After leaving CED, he joined CSDS, Delhi. Now he is a full fledged philosopher and has done a lot of work on knowledge in the Internet World.  In this KICS sharing session, which is significantly being held as part of DOC2.0, we have asked him to trace his journey, and his reflections on his favourite subject - Science, Knowledge, Society. We expect Avinash to re-tickle some of those ticklish questions that most of us in information centres, in the NGO sector have been grappling with. Why do we do what we do!

Here is a previous paperby Avinash covering some of the issues.