Our first point of departure is that education and research are two parts of one overarching, characteristically modern liturgical order. They took form in parallel, mostly from the middle of the 19th century onward. They are united in their focus on the immaterial but powerful thing called knowledge – also refereed to as competence or, sometimes (creative, entrepreneurial) ”spirit”.

A range of questions can be asked in relation to this substance:

  1. Under what conditions is it brought into being?
  2. How does it exist?
  3. How does it make its presence known?
  4. What are its powers?

1. Education and Research are institutions focused on the growth of this ”thing” or ”substance”. They differ in that education is focused on growth of knowledge (or spirit, or competence) as individual, while the aim of research is the development of knowledge as a property of us moderns as a collective. The point is that the substance around which both education and research circle can only be brought into being within these institutions. There are rules for knowledge production, and education and research are specifically designed to follow these rules. These rules are part of the ritual of education and research respectively.

2. Knowledge can exist in two forms in modernity: in individuals, as brought into being by education; in texts brought into being by research. These are the two modes of existence of modern knowledge.

3. The ”knowledge content” of individuals is measured within education by what we all are very familiar with as knowledge assessment. The knowledge content of texts is measured through peer-review. There is a clear parallel between education and research in that individuals (in education) and texts (in research) go through a highly formalized process of certification through which their knowledge content – its quantity and quality – is established.

From the perspective of modernity, these processes measure how much knowledge is present in the text or individual. From the anthropological perspective, these processes establish – in the sense of bringing-into-being – the presence of knowledge, in individuals and texts.

4. Knowledge is a powerful substance in modernity. From the perspective of modernity, it is thought to be powerful ”in itself”, enhancing the power of thinking, understanding and action of individuals and functioning as a power of change, improvement and development for society in the form of research articles. From the anthropological perspective, on the other hand, it can be noted that – so to speak ”behind the scenes” – a stable and invariant set of conventions make knowledge powerful:

  • being a certified carrier of individual knowledge – having a ”knowledge certificate” – gives you access to employment within professions, often connected to a certain ”knowledge kind”.
  • being a certified  producer of text-borne knowledge gives you access to research grants and positions within academia.

From an anthropological perspective, the value of knowledge, as it is reflected back on carriers and producers through invariant and stable conventions, can be seen as a self-referential message of the liturgical orders of education and research. The effects of knowledge, beyond this message, is far from obvious.

/Sverker & Ditte