Structures of Knowledge, the Social Sciences, Decolonization, and the World-System

Richard E. Lee

The Structures of Knowledge and the Future of the Social Sciences: Two Postulates, Two Propositions and a Closing Remark.”

Journal of World-Systems Research, vi, 3, fall/winter 2000, 786-796
Special Issue: Festchrift for Immanuel Wallerstein – Part II

First Postulate: The production and reproduction of the structures of knowledge has been a process constitutive of and constituted by the Modern World-System.

Second Postulate: The social sciences emerged in the nineteenth century as a medium-term solution to the tensions internal to the structures of knowledge.

First Proposition: The structures of knowledge have entered into systemic crisis.

Second Proposition: The uncertainty of the future opens up the character of knowledge production and the definition and role of the knowledge producer.

Immanuel Wallerstein has written that world-systems analysis, as an unfinished critique of nineteenth-century social science “has not been able to find a way to surmount the most enduring (and misleading) legacy of nineteenth-century social science—the division of social analysis into three arenas, three logics, three levels—the economic, the political, and the sociocultural. This trinity stands in the middle of the road, in granite, blocking our intellectual advance” (1991: 4). In conclusion, I want to suggest that the structures of knowledge approach with its emphasis on processes and TimeSpace rather than categories and development can bring us one step closer to the goal of constructing the historical social sciences and achieving a more useful vision of long-term, large-scale social change.


Richard E. Lee

Cultural Studies, Complexity Studies and the Transformation of the Structures of Knowledge

The structures of knowledge of the modern world, those patterns of what can and cannot be thought that determine what actions can and cannot be deemed feasible in the material world, are undergoing a transformation. Two knowledge movements, cultural studies with roots in the humanities and complexity studies in the sciences have challenged the separation of the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities by upsetting the epistemological underpinnings of the mutually exclusive epistemologies based on the separation of truth and values in knowledge production. For the future, social analysts may shift from fabricating and verifying theories to imagining and evaluating the multiple possible con-sequences of diverse interpretative accounts of human reality and the actions they entail.


Richard E. Lee

The Crisis of the Structures of Knowledge: Where Do We Go from Here?

For now, the future intellectual and institutional organization of knowledge production is “uncertain”. It remains to be constructed. In this context three things can be noted. First, not only will it be exciting for those committed to the process, but given that change is in the offing, direct involvement becomes a moral imperative. Second, since interests, that is, values, are entailed, the process is likely to be a site of real struggle. Third, the outcome of the process will have profound impact in the form of a fundamental transformation of the structure of social relations. Nonetheless, as the recognition that all knowledge has a social aspect gains ground and the possibilities of “containing” the study of human reality within existing disciplinary arrangements becomes increasingly dubious, it remains unclear exactly “what is to be done”. …

…Direct advocacy of alternative models of social reality presented by dedicated proponents and the logical consequences that follow from those alternative conceptual schemes at their limits favors the disclosure of the articulation of symbolic codes and material practices and thus the exposure of the historical construction of relations of authority and legitimacy. Direct advocacy fosters the recovery of the link between values and difference and thereby undermines the separation of personal morality from professional neutrality….

…From this perspective, that is, of an emancipatory project, the professor/student relation also begins to appear increasingly problematic. Already a new, collaborative subject, in recognition of the ultimate social construction of knowledge and in tune with the lives of real men and women caught up in the making of a new world, is emerging….


Immanuel Wallerstein

“The Structures of Knowledge, or How Many Ways May We Know?”

Where then does social science fit in this picture? In the nineteenth century, the social sciences, faced with the “two cultures,” internalized their struggle as a Methodenstreit. There were those who leaned toward the humanities and utilized what was called an idiographic epistemology. They emphasized the particularity of all social phenomena, the limited utility of all generalizations, the need for empathetic understanding. And there were those who leaned towards the natural sciences and utilized what was called a nomothetic epistemology. They emphasized the logical parallel between human processes and all other material processes. They sought to join physics in the search for universal, simple laws that held across time and space. Social science was like someone tied to two horses galloping in opposite directions. Social science had no epistemological stance of its own and was torn apart by the struggle between the two colossi of the natural sciences and the humanities.

Today we find we are in a very different situation. On the one hand, complexity studies is emphasizing the arrow of time, a theme that has always been central to social science. It emphasizes complexity, and admits that human social systems are the most complex of all systems. And it emphasizes creativity in nature, thus extending to all nature what was previously thought to be a unique feature of homo sapiens.

Cultural studies is emphasizing the social context within which all texts, all communications, are made, and are received. It is thus utilizing a theme that has always been central to social science. It emphasizes the non-uniformity of social reality and the necessity of appreciating the rationality of the other.

These two movements offer social science an incredible opportunity to overcome its derivative and divided character, and to place the study of social reality within an integrated view of the study of all material reality. Far from being torn apart by horses galloping in opposite directions, I see both complexity studies and cultural studies as moving in the direction of social science. In a sense, what we are seeing is the “social scientization” of all knowledge.


Michael G. Doxtater

Indigenous Knowledge in the Decolonial Era

American Indian Quarterly; Summer/Fall 2004, Vol. 28 Issue 3/4, p. 618-633

Abstract: Examines the trend of resistance to colonial influence through the maintenance of Indigenous knowledge. Dilemmas facing Western knowledge; Inclusion of Marxian ideology and liberal theory on the syzygy of modernity; Description of human and world development according to colonial-power-knowledge.

“Western knowledge faces two dilemmas. First, Western knowledge rests itself on a foundation of reason to understand the true nature of the world, yet it also privileges itself as the fiduciary of all knowledge with authority to authenticate or invalidate other knowledge (when it gets around to it). Colonial-power-knowledge conceptualizes intellectual colonization in Foucaultian terms, in this case with a Western knowledge fiduciary acting as guardian over its Indigenous knowledge ward (Foucault 1977; Feldman 1997). I suggest that the resulting contradiction embroiders some Western knowledge expertise with unreasonableness through its ignorance of other knowledge. Posing as the fiduciary of all knowledge exposes the limits of Western knowledge. Early twentieth-century poet Carl Sandburg poses the knowledge landscape as circles in the sand that help explain Western knowledge’s conundrum. “The white man drew a circle in the sand,” Sandburg begins immediately, “and told the red man ‘This is what the Indian knows.'” Continuing, Sandburg describes the white man drawing a big circle around the smaller one: “This is what the white man knows.” Then, as though responding to international development and Western knowledge experts, Sandburg shows the Indian sweeping an immense circle around both rings in the sand. “This is where the white and the red man know nothing” (Sandburg 1971, 30). Often it never seems to dawn on experts that there are limits to their knowledge….”


Leanne R. Simpson

Anticolonial Strategies for the Recovery and Maintenance of Indigenous Knowledge

American Indian Quarterly; Summer/Fall 2004, Vol. 28 Issue 3/4, p373-384, 12p

Abstract: Offers a look at anticolonial strategies for the recovery and maintenance of indigenous knowledge in 2004. Focus of the United Nations on Traditional Ecological Knowledge; Elements comprising the renewal of indigenous knowledge; Representation by the Indian Act of the criminalization of indigenous knowledge systems; Role of ecological damage in the destruction of indigenous knowledge; Documentation as a means of further colonizing indigenous knowledge.

“Indigenist thinkers have advocated for the recovery and promotion of Traditional Indigenous Knowledge (IK) systems as an important process in decolonizing Indigenous nations and their relationships with settler governments, whether those strategies are applied to political and legal systems, governance, health and wellness, education, or the environment. Recovering and maintaining Indigenous worldviews, philosophies, and ways of knowing and applying those teachings in a contemporary context represents a web of liberation strategies Indigenous Peoples can employ to disentangle themselves from the oppressive control of colonizing state governments. Combined with the political drive toward self-determination, these strategies mark resistance to cultural genocide, vitalize an agenda to rebuild strong and sustainable Indigenous national territories, and promote a just relationship with neighboring states based on the notions of peace and just coexistence embodied in Indigenous Knowledge and encoded in the original treaties….”


Waziyatawin Angela Wilson

Indigenous Knowledge Recovery Is Indigenous Empowerment

American Indian Quarterly 28 (3/4) Summer/Fall 2004: 359-372.

Abstract: Examines the importance of Indigenous knowledge recovery as a means of combating the effects of colonialism; Details the ways in which colonialism required the subjugation of mind and spirit in addition to physical subjugation; Disputes the irrelevance of Indigenous traditions in the modern world; Examines the deterioration of health conditions amongst indigenous peoples as a result of colonization; Highlights educational programs which attempt to reinforce and celebrate Indigenous identity; Discusses the loss of indigenous language and tribal rule.

“Indigenous knowledge recovery is an anticolonial project. It is a project that gains its momentum from the anguish of the loss of what was and the determined hope for what will be. It springs from the disaster resulting from the centuries of colonialism’s efforts to methodically eradicate our ways of seeing, being, and interacting with the world. At the dawn of the twenty-first century the recovery of Indigenous knowledge is a conscious and systematic effort to revalue that which has been denigrated and revive that which has been destroyed. It is about regaining the ways of being that allowed our peoples to live a spiritually balanced, sustainable existence within our ancient homelands for thousands of years. In privileging writings about current work in Indigenous knowledge recovery, we are challenging the powerful institutions of colonization that have routinely dismissed alternative knowledges and ways of being as irrelevant to the modern world. Because Indigenous Peoples and other advocates of Indigenous knowledge have typically been denied access to the academic power structures that legitimize such knowledge, this special issue of American Indian Quarterly offers us a rare scholarly opportunity to validate it….”


Duane Champagne

In Search of Theory and Method in American Indian Studies

American Indian Quarterly
; Summer 2007, Vol. 31 Issue 3, p. 353-372

Abstract: The article discusses the role of American Indian studies in the autonomy of tribal nations and the multidisciplinary perspective of academic and other research institutions. Understanding the values of and socioeconomic issues in indigenous societies–such as land stewardship, claims to territory, self-government, community relations, and maintenance of cultural orientations–is necessary in light of globalization and nation-building. Topics include relations between American Indians and the United States government, research methods in sociology, and reasons for developing theories about indigenous communities and nation-states.

“American Indian studies should have a theoretical and methodological focus sufficient to organize an academic discipline. American Indian nations, or more generally indigenous nations, form distinct political and cultural groups that are informed by creation and cultural teachings that encourage preservation of self-government, community, and stewardship of land within the context of surrounding nation-states that prefer assimilation and political inclusion to recognition of indigenous goals and values. Most contemporary theories of group action can provide only partial explanations for the conservative cultural and political organization of indigenous peoples and for their cultural and political continuity to the present. The distinct cultural, institutional, and political organization and nonconsensual relations of American Indian nations with the U.S. government constitutes a unique pattern of socialcultural organization and cultural and political contestations. A primary focus of American Indian studies as a discipline is to conceptualize, research, and explain patterns of American Indian individual and collective community choices and strategies when confronted with relations with the American state and society. American Indian cultural emphasis on retaining culture, identity, self-government, and stewardship of land and resulting contestations with the U.S. government and society forms a body of empirical social action that constitutes the subject matter of American Indian studies as an academic discipline. American Indian studies defined in this way should be capable of generating theory, performing empirical research, making generalizations, commenting on policy, and supporting the goals and values of American Indian nations. The suggested framework for American Indian studies as an academic discipline can be generalized to the international level in the form of indigenous studies….”