We begin P-ROK at a time when social commentators and political activists openly denigrate intellectual activity and disparage academic expertise as irrelevant, valueless, not worth the effort. In the chiding words of one New York Times pundit, we are highly educated and secular university town elites, and in this internet platform we reassert the value of critical insight and the role of public knowledge. We do this fully aware that a Princeton report on knowledge must engage the historical conditions in which we produce knowledge and in which it is evaluated. Our title alludes to the subtitle of Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, in which he claims that due to technological changes in production and the increased pace of transmission, knowledge has lost is use-value. Since the 1979 publication of Lyotard's "report on knowledge in the most advanced countries," the knowledge game has indeed been turned on its head. A critique of knowledge that intended to strengthen its rigor and generate new insights has instead been deployed to devalue and threaten the very existence of empirical and critical knowledge. We speak not only of rampant anti-intellectualism, but also of a substitution of representation for expertise, sophisticated spinning of facts, and a widespread conviction that inconvenient information should not be treated as such; i.e., as a pragmatic barrier to action.
Much of what passes for epistemological thinking outside the academy these days accepts and inverts Enlightenment hierarchies between reason and belief, fact and argument, without advancing any new knowledge as was once the hope and prospect. We suggest that the ends of knowledge are not reducible to achieving or consolidating power, not reducible to credentialing future leaders, not reducible to politics or to talking points and position papers produced and packaged by proliferating think tanks. Rather, knowledge is something valuable in itself, a good that keeps its qualities as it is exchanged.
This platform is a product of the Princeton community - submissions are restricted to faculty and visitors, and our reports often grow out of interactions on the Princeton campus - but is hardly for Princeton alone. Thus, P-ROK is very consciously internet-based, free for readers anywhere in the world to download and use. And it takes up global issues and events that go far beyond Princeton, the university, or the United States. Our logo, based on an initial design by the talented undergraduate Jesse Palermo, captures the spirit of this enterprise - to encourage the production and transmission of knowledge openly, without restriction, with no assertion of "propriety rights" or goal of monetary remuneration, yet also to ensure that our knowledge retains the imprint of its historical location and contingency.
We neither wish either to return to some form of authoritative knowledge blinded to its own contingency, nor to embrace the use of reflexivity and relativism simply in order to avoid knowledge claims altogether. Rather, we wish to foreground knowledge and reflexivity, because it is their dialectical relationship that makes for the very strengths of a knowledge that is able to eschew its own self-certainty.
To exhume knowledge from its incarceration in the academy, we will spotlight unorthodox ways of generating knowledge and alternative forms of transmission: The critical interview instead of the hagiographic depiction, the interactive forum instead of unquestioned punditry and abbreviated thought, the concise report instead of the lengthy article with ritual review of literature and footnotes, the accidental instead of the planned, the untranslatable instead of the universal equivalent, the punctual question and witty answer rather than the measured tones of declamation. In this heterodox experiment with genre, this platform also has room for commentary, queries, praise, and dissent. Please use the "contact us" feature of P-ROK, and become part of the report.
Signed, Executive Editors:
John Borneman, Professor of Anthropology, and Gyan Prakash, Professor of History