Friday, April 13, 2007

China, scholarship and bias

This post raises many profound issues regarding the status of information and the ways in which available knowledge is constrained by the ideology by which it is created. The topic is China and what we do and don't know about what is happening in China based on the way in which China is studied by those outside the country. The subject could equally well be North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, the Middle East or any geographic space or subject matter where there is some degree of state control over access to information: basically the entire planet and just about any topic, especially anything environmental.

The commentary highlights that all knowledge is contingent on the ideology by which it is created, obtained and/or utilised. No information is value-free, nor is it objective. Rather, all information is informed by the circumstances of its origin and needs to be viewed in context, understood within the protocol by which it was studied and balanced by alternatives. Sadly, in the case of China, alternative narratives are difficult to obtain. Moreover, as we have seen with all ecomyths, alternative narratives often struggle for credibility precisely because they represent a challenge to the presumed authority of the orthodox and sanctioned, approved knowledge. There well may be a prevailing academic "consensus" on China. What this post suggests is that we get what we ask for. A consensus may sound good and seem authoritative, but it need not be accurate nor comprehensive.