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Francois Lyotard argued that knowledge is exteriorized from the knower. Knowledge doesn't reside in the knower but in the relationship between commodity producers and commodities. Consequently, "knowledge will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its 'use value'" (1984: 4-5). Knowledge more and more takes the form of commodified databases electronically stored in corporate vaults, but it does so not because it loses 'use value,' but because use value is now exclusively harnessed to the wagons of exchange value.

The commodification of knowledge and information decouples the association between scientific knowledge and Enlightenment narratives. Knowledge for its own sake, a myth that could never be realized, was nonetheless an animating vision in the Enlightenment narratives of science. But, commodified scientific knowledge controlled by the corporation (via the private property laws of patents and copyrights, and the revenue streams of licensing) is developed with an eye to maximizing revenues and market shares. Science in the service of the continued diffusion of a consumer society, would seem to undermine the belief in objective rationality and universal humanism so central to the Enlightenment project. Today, science blends with technology, what Lyotard called technoscience. As the corporation emerges as the locus of scientific research, science becomes based exclusively on how it might drive market performance (Sassower, 1995).

Lyotard goes on to note the demoralization of scientists, particularly in the university. In the United States science became increasingly housed within corporate research labs or government installations during WW II. This relationship continued throughout the Cold War. The 1960's certainly saw spreading critiques of science that decried the loss of autonomy of the production of knowledge which included scientific knowledge, an autonomy that was more mythical than real. Was science ever de-legitimized outside the university. There have, of course, been pointed critiques of specific technologies that science has produced to wage war, e.g., nuclear technologies, napalm, agent orange. Nevertheless, technoscience continues to advance, even if these advances have become less evolutionary and harmonious than true believers had hoped. While the gospel of science has been tainted by its contributions to the terror of nuclear war, or its role in the domination of nature, Lyotard's assertion that scientific discourse has been reduced to but another language game seems to overreach.

Does the loss of the scientific project as a pure form produced by scientists autonomously searching for Truth, necessarily mean that people have lost faith in what Science can accomplish? Has science been de-legitimized in the public mind? Corporate science has drawn on public relations and advertising to counter any such tendencies. We want to look at their ads as efforts to legitimate themselves by wrapping themselves in the cloak of a Science defined by the Technologies it can yield.

We begin by observing that corporations go to the well of science signifiers frequently, to legitimize their practices and to build narratives that envision a 'better' future brought about by science and its daughter, technology. We doubt that corporate advertisers would put so much stock in signifiers of the scientific mastery of nature if the public perceived science as yet another language game.


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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey