Knowledge as an end

You’re a sociology major?  So what are you going to do with that?”  

This is a question I hear all too often and I’m sure many others from similar disciplines have experienced this joy.  

What an absurd and depressing question—not because it’s hard to answer, but because it demonstrates the ignorance our society has for cultural studies.  It’s a sad time for the social sciences, but not completely hopeless.

Such questions indicate that social science majors deal with a lot of shit.  Fortunately, we should rejoice and wallow in this shit, because if there’s one indubitable fact, it’s that social sciences teach you to discern the good shit from the bad, which is always in abundance.  It teaches you to engage ideas and think critically.  It’s both a skill and an intuition that neither the applied sciences nor schools of business can ever hope to teach.    

Perhaps society’s under-appreciation for social sciences tells us a lot about how we have chosen to value the pursuit of knowledge.  We have become absorbed by a peculiar ideology in which knowledge—as an end in itself—isn’t good enough.  Indeed, throughout our lives we have been brought up with this idea that we should treat knowledge as a means to an end—an instrumental way to make money. 

Our university, in turn, perpetuates this idea, exemplified in the rigid borders that separate the disciplines and hence the students.  It’s a formidable way to create a division of labour in society and reinforce a theory of knowledge based on utility.  

We constantly hear of a need for change in society, be it in politics, economics, social relations or any combination of such facets ad infinitum.  But how can any change really occur if the fundamental building blocks of society—that is, ideas—are constricted by rigid shackles? The act of categorizing knowledge into disciplines may be counter-intuitive to the pursuit of knowledge.

For instance, how will the future scientists of our society effect change if they don’t realize science itself can’t solve the problems of science? Such a value-rationale resembles more a tautology than a tangible solution to the problems our society faces.

How will the commerce students ever effect change if they’re not exposed to the harsh realities of global capitalism?  Without a balanced education in the social sciences, the commerce major limits their understanding of the world to a discourse of market relations and individual entitlement.   

If there’s one thing the social sciences can do, it’s help liberate our understandings by recognizing the inherent power relations and ideological assumptions in our everyday lives. We can’t simply continue treating knowledge as a means to an end, for it is an end in itself. We must understand that the pursuit of knowledge is something greater than ourselves.  I believe the social sciences exemplify this, and until we free knowledge from the institutional constraints that structure our disciplines, knowledge will remain a means to an end and we will continue to miss the point.  

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