It will then proceed by discussing aspects of social change in history, in particular how changes after the 2nd world war challenged old and traditional systems of knowledge. In this discussion this essay will focus on two dominant systems of knowledge, medicine and religion, and in what way the changing role of women in society has challenged these knowledge systems. With regard to religion this essay will also discuss the development of new age beliefs in today's society with relevance to the question is religion in decline? This essay will aim to use relevant examples in this discussion in order to reach a conclusion of the link between social change and changes in knowledge in our society.
So lets begin by answering the question what is knowledge?
'All knowledge is produced, collected, collated and disseminated by human beings living in societies.' (Goldblatt 2000). It is inherited through the language we learn in our daily lives. We use many different sources of knowledge in order to understand where we
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Come from, who we are and the society within we live it shapes what we know and what we don't know.
It is the social structures and institutions within society, which shape the content of knowledge systems, be it in medicine, religion, the political ideologies and so on. They decide who holds the power in within these knowledge systems.' They determine, for example, who has access to specialized knowledge languages (like medical training) and who has socially sanctioned and legal authority to make pronouncements on a given subject.'(Goldblatt 2000). Aside from specialized or expert knowledge there is also a different type of knowledge known as common sense knowledge. This is knowledge, which we all inherit or learn from family and friends, or acquire through outside influences accessible to us such as media or the Internet. It helps us understand or gain alternative knowledge on issues such as our health for example. It often comes in the shape of old wives tales, which have been passed down through generations.
The dominant knowledge systems such as medicine religion and so on are not fixed however and when social change occurs, they are forced to respond to these changes, and in consequence it is also knowledge that can then influence change in society and determine how we live our lives.
Throughout history society has seen many radical changes within its dominant knowledge systems. We
have witnessesed major advances in scientific research, medicine, changes in 'traditional' religious beliefs and challenges to the dominant political ideologies, particularly following the Second World War.
One of the foremost debates today is whether or not there has been a decline in the trust of expert knowledge within all aspects of society.
There have always been experts with specialized knowledge even in ancient times. However years ago experts in their field be it science, medicine or religion were always trusted their knowledge was respected and believed as true, scientists, doctors, priests and the like. Although they were never completely unchallenged the authority of their knowledge was secure. However it could be argued that at this time people had no way of acquiring the knowledge to know any different and had no reason to challenge the experts.
In time however new discoveries in science, medicine, and with new communication technology evolving all the time in all aspects of society, allowed people much more access to alternative knowledge and information. With this new knowledge people began to ask questions and have their say regarding issues of importance to them. Also new experts were emerging all the time to challenge old knowledge systems. 'Debates that were once confined to a small circle of influential figures and institutions within each of these traditions are now amplified through
the enormously expanded means of communication that now exists' (Goldblatt 2000)
It could be fair to argue then that it is not so much that there has been a decline in the trust of experts but that the old and traditional and trusted knowledge systems have become more diverse due to the emerge of alternate
forms of knowledge within society, for example, alternative medicine, new political ideologies and so on.
Following the 2nd world war feminism had a huge impact for women in all spheres of society. Science, medicine and religion, had largely been dominated by men throughout history. Women had been pretty much excluded from all these dominant knowledge systems. It was men who held superior patriarchy power within all aspects of society. This allows us then to not only question and discuss gendered knowledge but to also look at the interrelation between knowledge and power within these knowledge systems.
Lets look at the at a feminist approach adopted by Fox Keller, with relevance to women's place within medical science. She argues that knowledge production is gendered and shaped by patriarchy within social structures in society.
'Modern science ... is based on a division of emotional and intellectual labour in which objectivity, reason and mind are cast as male and subjectivity, feeling and nature are cast as female. Science involves a radical separation of subject and object and ultimately the domination of
mind over nature. The result is a popular conception of science - one that is more suited to men than women'. (Fox Keller).
An example of this is the Royal Society founded by Charles II in1662. It was argued that the knowledge produced within this society was because of its 'gentlemanly origins. They saw the importance of objective knowledge over subjective knowledge within the field of science and medicine. Women's knowledge at this time was 'devalued and relegated to folk medicine' (Thompson and woodward 2000).
It was due to the fact that women were excluded from higher education and therefore unable to attend medical universities, hence were unable to enter the medical field without training. 'Power over Knowledge was used to maintain a structure in which women were systematically excluded from a male medical monopoly' (Thompson and Woodward) Today however, due largely to the emerge of feminism, women now have equality with men in the medical profession, and other dominant knowledge systems such as religion.
As with medicine religion too was dominated by the patriarchy power within society. In fact it wasn't until 1992 that women were finally accepted into the priesthood.
In contemporary society women have challenged the patriarchy of old and traditional religious beliefs in favour of new understanding of religion and what it
means for them. Many women now focus on a more spiritual beliefs, one movement dedicated to this is that of eco-feminism.
'Eco-feminism is a new term for an ancient wisdom. As women in various movements - ecology, peace, feminist and especially health - rediscovered the independence and connectedness of everything, they also discovered what was called spiritual dimension of life - the realization of this interconnectedness was itself sometime called spirituality................The desire to recover, to regenerate [this] wisdom as a means to liberate women and nature from patriarchal destruction also motivated this turning towards spirituality.'(Mies and Shiva, 1997, p,500).
So it is fair to argue that due to social change brought about by the emerge of feminism women have challenged both gendered knowledge and the power of knowledge in medicine and religion.
The rise of Eco-feminism however is just one of the many alternative or new age beliefs within religion today. Which begs the question of religion in contemporary society and whether it is in decline. Or could it be that as with the knowledge system of medicine or expert knowledge in general, religion has become so diverse due to social change and the emerge of alternative religious beliefs brought about because of these changes.
Religion has changed significantly throughout history. Following the emerge of the Royal Society and the
intellectual movement throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, known as 'The Age of Reason', (Enlightenment), it was argued that 'Science replaced religion as the dominant source of knowledge'(Woodward and Watt 2000)
However religion has always played an important role for people within society due to the fact that unlike scientific knowledge it is religion, which helps us make sense of the moral issues that, can affect us in our daily lives.
Social scientists debate into the question is religion in decline is known as the secularization thesis. Some argue that it is modernization, which is a threat to traditional religious thinking by citing new age beliefs as being responsible for this. Some argue that people now fill their time with other leisure activities instead. It is also argued that other forms of thought have taken over religion such as science for example. The fact also that the UK is now a multicultural society means there are many diverse forms of religion apart from the church of England.
There are two main approaches in this debate positivist, whose approach is based on observing peoples behaviour toward religion. They use quantitative evidence such as questionnaires and surveys, which is argued may be limiting.
The interpretative approach however would argue humans cannot be observed in the same way as objects. There aim is understand what religion or people's beliefs mean to them and aim to explore those meanings from different perspectives.
It can be argued that religion in contemporary society has become a significantly diverse knowledge system. Ethnic beliefs, women's challenge to patriarchal religion and the emerge of new age beliefs, be it alternative medicine or green issues have meant that the traditional Church of England the dominant form of religion any more.
So in conclusion then this essay began by defining what is knowledge. It then proceeded by questioning expert knowledge with regard to social change. It then focused on two dominant knowledge systems medicine and religion and discussed how the emerge of feminism challenged the knowledge systems. Lastly it discussed briefly the role of religion in contemporary society and questioned whether it is in decline and the relevance of women's, ethnic and new age beliefs. It is fair to argue that the discussion in this essay does conclude that there is a significant link, not only between social change and knowledge but knowledge and social change.
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