New social realities require a new perspective. In advanced societies, the capacity of the individual to say no has increased considerably. At the same time, the ability of the large social institutions that have significantly shaped the nature of the twentieth century to get things done has diminished in the last couple of decades. Or, appropriating Adolp Lowe’s (1971:563) astute insights, we are witnessing a change from social realities in which “things” at last from the point of view of most individuals simple “happened” to a social world in which more and more things are “made” to happen. In this contribution, these new realities are described as representing the emergence of advanced societies as knowledge societies.
I will describe some of these transformations that constitute a real and unprecedented gain from the perspective of the individual and small groups but also what may be described as a rise in the fragility of society. The stress on rights and the growing ability to assert and claim such rights is one of the salient manifestations of the transformations I examine. The same developments are responsible for a crisis in mastering, planning and managing common problems and for a decline in the sense of individual responsibilities. However, there is a trade-off; the decline in the steering capacity of large social institutions and their growing difficulty to impose their will on society leads to a rise of the importance and efficacy of civil society.
First, I will refer to the concept of knowledge societies and examine the notion of knowledge. I propose to define knowledge as a capacity to act. I will describe the reasons for the importance of scientific knowledge as one among various forms of knowledge in advanced societies. The transformation of modern societies into knowledge societies manifests itself most importantly in the sphere of economic activities. I therefore describe some of the features of the changing economy before turning to those consequences of the advancing “knowledgeability” of actors in modern society that give rise to the growing fragility of modern society.
John Stuart Mill, in The Spirit of the Age (1831), published after his return to England from France, where he had encountered the political thinking of the Saint-Simonians and of the early Comte, affirms his conviction that the intellectual accomplishments of his own age make social progress somehow inevitable (cf. Cowen and Shenton, 1996:35-41). But progress in the improvement of social conditions is not, Mill argues, the outcome of an “increase in wisdom” or of the collective accomplishments of science. It is rather linked to a general diffusion of knowledge (Mill  1942:13).
Mill’s observations in the mid-nineteenth century, a period he regarded as an age of moral and political transition, and in particular his expectation that increased individual choice (and hence emancipation from “custom”) will result from a broad diffusion of knowledge and education, strongly resonates with the notion of present-day society -- the social structure that is emerging as industrial society gives way -- as a “knowledge society”.
The foundation for the transformation of modern societies into knowledge societies is to a significant extent also based, as was the case for industrial society, on changes in the structure of the economies of advanced societies. Economic capital -- or, more precisely, the source of economic growth and value-adding activities -- increasingly relies on knowledge. The transformation of the structures of the modern economy by knowledge as a productive force constitutes the “material” basis and justification for designating advanced modern society as a “knowledge society”. The significance of knowledge grows in all spheres of life and in all social institutions of modern society.
Both the greatly enhanced social, political and economic significance of science and technology and the often narrow, even scientistic conception of knowledge generated by modern science call for a careful sociological analysis of knowledge itself. Knowledge has of course always had a major function in social life2. That human action is knowledge-based might even be regarded as an anthropological constant. Social groups, social situations, social interaction and social roles all depend on, and are mediated by, knowledge. Relations among individuals are based on knowledge of each other.3 Power too has frequently been based on knowledge advantages, not merely on physical strength. Societal reproduction, furthermore, is not just physical reproduction but has always also been cultural, i.e., it involves reproduction of knowledge.
The historical emergence of "knowledge societies" does not occur suddenly; it represents not a revolutionary development, but rather a gradual process during which the defining characteristics of society change and new traits emerge. Even today, the demise of societies is typically as gradual as was their beginning, even if some social transformations do occur in spectacular leaps. But most major social changes continue to evolve gradually, at an uneven pace, and they become clearly visible only after the transition is already over. The proximity of our time to significant social, economic and cultural changes, however, makes it highly likely that what is now beginning to come into view is of extraordinary present and future significance.
Moreover, knowledge societies do not come about as the result of some straightforward common pattern of development. They are not a one-dimensional social figuration. Knowledge societies become similar by remaining or even becoming dissimilar. New technological modes of communication break down the distance between groups and individuals, while the isolation of particular regions, cities and villages remains. The world opens up and creeds, styles and commodities mingle, yet the walls between incompatible convictions about what is sacred do not come tumbling down. The meaning of time and place erodes even while boundaries are celebrated.
Until recently, modern society was conceived primarily in terms of property and labor. Labor and property (capital) have had a long association in social, economic and political theory. Work is seen as property and as a source of emerging property. On the basis of these attributes, individuals and groups were able or constrained to define their membership in society. In the wake of their declining importance in the productive process, especially in the sense of their conventional economic attributes and manifestations, for example as "corporeal" property such as land and manual work, the social constructs of labor and property themselves are changing. While the traditional attributes of labor and property certainly have not disappeared entirely, a new principle, "knowledge", has been added which, to an extent, challenges as well as transforms property and labor as the constitutive mechanisms of society.
Theories of societies, depending on their constitutive principles, mirror these quintessential social mechanisms in the chosen shorthand for the historical era they claim to describe and represent. Thus, bourgeois or capitalist society was originally viewed as a society of owners. Later it became a "laboring society" (Arbeitsgesellschaft), and it is now evolving into a knowledge society.
In retrospect, even some ancient societies (Rome, China, the Aztec Empire), that gained and maintained power in part as a result of their superior knowledge and information technology, may be described as knowledge societies of sorts. Ancient Israel was founded upon its lawlike Torah-knowledge, and in ancient Egypt religious, astronomical and agrarian knowledge served as the organizing principle and basis of authority. In this sense knowledge has had an important function throughout history, and humans have always lived in “knowledge societies”. But in present-day society knowledge has clearly become much more fundamental and even strategic for all spheres of life, greatly modifying and in some cases replacing factors that until recently had been constitutive of social action.
Thus, and despite the fact that there also have been societies in the past that were based on knowledge-intensive action, the idea that modern society increasingly is a knowledge society is meaningful and has practical relevance. It is as meaningful to refer to modern society as a knowledge society as it made sense to refer to industrial societies even though there had been past social systems that were based on the work of “machines”.
Knowledge about knowledge
The focus of sociological analysis must therefore increasingly be the peculiar nature and function of knowledge in social relations as well as the carriers of such knowledge together with the resulting changes in power relations and sources of social conflict.4 In sociology, however, virtually all classical theorists are proponents and even architects of scientism. This also applies to the ways in which knowledge is conceptualized in theories of society designed to capture the unique features of present-day society.
There exists the paradoxical tendency to overestimate the efficacy of "objective" technical-scientific or formal knowledge. Theories of modern society generally lack sufficient detail and scope in their conceptualizations of "knowledge" in order to provide explanations for the causes of the increasingly greater demand for ever more knowledge, the ways in which knowledge travels, for the rapidly expanding groups of individuals in society who in some way or another live off knowledge, for the many forms of knowledge considered pragmatically useful and the various effects knowledge may have on social relations. Since the constitutive mechanism of “knowledge” is defined in a restrictive objectivist manner, the social, political and economic consequences to which these theories allude tend to be confined to rather straightforward effects that include the hope for (or the fear of) highly rationalized forms of social action.
Knowledge as a capacity for action
Knowledge may be defined as a capacity for action. The use of the term ”knowledge” as a capacity for action is derived from Francis Bacon's famous observation that knowledge is power (a somewhat misleading translation of Bacon’s Latin phrase: “scientia est potentia”). Bacon suggests that knowledge derives its utility from its capacity to set something in motion. The term potentia, that is: capacity, is employed to describe the power of knowing.
The definition of knowledge as capacity for action has multi-faceted implications and consequences. Capacity for action signals that knowledge may in fact be left unused, or that it may be employed for “irrational” ends. The thesis that knowledge invariably is pushed to its limit, that it is often translated into action without regard for its possible consequences (as argued, for instance, by C.P. Snow [cf. Sibley, 1973]) does not give proper recognition to the context of implementation of such knowledge.
The definition of knowledge as capacity for action strongly indicates that the material realization and implementation of knowledge is open, that it is dependent on or embedded within the context of specific social, economic and intellectual conditions.5 Inasmuch as the realization of knowledge is dependent on the active elaboration of knowledge6 within specific networks and social conditions, a definite link between knowledge and social power becomes evident because the control of conditions and circumstances requires social power.
Knowledge is a peculiar entity with properties unlike those of commodities or of secrets, for example. Knowledge exists in objectified and embodied forms. If sold, it enters other domains -- and yet it remains within the domain of its producer. Knowledge does not have zero-sum qualities. Knowledge is a public as well as private good. When revealed, knowledge does not lose its influence. While it has been understood for some time that the "creation" of knowledge is fraught with uncertainties, the conviction that its application is without risks and that its acquisition reduces uncertainty has only recently been debunked. Unlike money, property rights and symbolic attributes such as titles, knowledge cannot be transmitted instantaneously. Its acquisition takes time and often is based on intermediary cognitive capacities and skills. But acquisition can be unintended and occur almost unconsciously. Neither the acquisition nor the transmission of knowledge is always easily visualized. The development, mobility and reproduction of knowledge are difficult to regulate. It is “troublesome” to censor and control knowledge. It is reasonable to speak of limits to growth in many spheres and resources of life, but the same does not appear to hold for knowledge. Knowledge has virtually no limits to its growth, but it takes time to accumulate.
Knowledge is often seen as a collective commodity par excellence; for example, the ethos of science demands that it be made universally available, at least in principle. The potentially unrestricted universal availability of knowledge makes it, in peculiar and unusual ways, resistant to private ownership (Simmel,  1978:438). Modern communication technologies ensure that access becomes easier, and may even subvert remaining proprietary restrictions; however, concentration rather than dissemination is also possible and certainly feared by many, including the late Marshall McLuhan. But it is equally possible to surmise that the increased social importance of knowledge in the end undermines its exclusiveness. Despite its reputation, knowledge is virtually never uncontested. In science, its contestability is seen as one of its foremost virtues. In practical circumstances, the contested character of knowledge is often repressed and/or conflicts with the exigencies of social action.
Scientific and technical knowledge, while evidently representing "capacities for action", do not thereby become uncontestable, no longer subject to challenge and interpretation.7 Scientific and technical knowledge is uniquely important because it produces incremental capacities for social and economic action or an increase in the ability of "how-to-do-it" that may be "privately appropriated", at least temporarily.8 And contrary to neoclassical assumptions, the unit price for knowledge-intensive commodities and services decreases with increased production, reflecting "progress down the learning curve" (cf. Schwartz, 1992).
Knowledge constitutes a basis for power. As Galbraith (1967:67) stresses, power "goes to the factor which is hardest to obtain or hardest to replace ... it adheres to the one that has greatest inelasticity of supply at the margin." But knowledge as such is not a scarce commodity, though two features of certain knowledge claims may well transform knowledge from a plentiful into a scarce resource: (1) What is scarce and difficult to obtain is not access to knowledge per se but to incremental knowledge, to a "marginal unit" of knowledge. The greater the tempo with which incremental knowledge ages or decays, the greater the potential influence of those who manufacture or augment knowledge, and correspondingly, of those who transmit such increments; (2) If sold, knowledge enters the domain of others, yet remains within the domain of the producer, and can be spun off once again. This signals that the transfer of knowledge does not necessarily include the transfer of the cognitive ability to generate such knowledge, for example the theoretical apparatus or the technological regime that yields such knowledge-claims in the first place and on the basis of which it is calibrated and validated. Cognitive skills of this kind, therefore, are scarce.
The knowledge-based economy
The emergence of knowledge societies signals first and foremost a radical transformation in the structure of the economy. Productive processes in industrial society are governed by factors that -- relative to the increasing importance of the exchange of symbolic goods—have greatly changed and for the most part declined in significance as preconditions for economic growth: The dynamics of the supply and demand for primary products or raw materials; the dependence of employment on production; the importance of the manufacturing sector that processes primary products; the role of manual labor and the social organization of work; the role of international trade in manufactured goods and services; the function of time and place in production and of the nature of the limits to economic growth.
The most common denominator of the changing economic structure is a shift away from an economy driven and governed by "material" inputs into the productive process and its organization, toward an economy in which the transformations of productive and distributive processes are increasingly determined by "symbolic" or knowledge-based inputs. The development and impact of modern information technology exemplifies these transformations (and not just in the sphere of economic activities). They include the dematerialization of production that represents diminished constraints on supply, lower and still declining cost, and a redefinition of the social functions of time, place and the increasing acceleration of change (cf. Perez, 1985; Miles, Rush, Turner and Bessant, 1988).
The structural changes of the economy and its dynamics increasingly reflect the fact that knowledge is emerging as the leading dimension in the productive process, the primary condition for its expansion and for a change in the limits to economic growth in the developed world. In the knowledge society, most of the wealth of a company is embodied in its creativity and information. In short, for the production of goods and services, with the exception of the most standardized commodities and services, factors other than "the amount of labor time or the amount of physical capital become increasingly central" (Block, 1985:95) to the economy of advanced societies.9
Individual and collective social conduct in knowledge societies
The transformation of modern societies into knowledge has profound consequences aside from those that pertain to its economic structure. One of the more remarkable consequences is the extent to which modern societies become fragile societies. This observation has to be qualified. Modern societies tend to be fragile from the viewpoint of those large and once dominant social institutions that find it increasingly difficult to impose their will on all of society, to give direction and determine the fate of its individual components. From the perspective of small groups and social movements more and uncoupled from the influence of the traditional large-scale social institutions, however, modern societies are not particularly fragile at all. For such groups and social movements, the social transformations underway mean a distinct gain in their relative influence and participation, even if typically mainly in their ability to resist, delay and alter the objectives of the larger institutions. I regard precisely the growing importance of such knowledge in modern society as the prime and immediate reason for the enlargement of the capacity of individuals and social movements to assert themselves in traditional as well as new contentious circumstances. The increase in the “knowledgeability” of actors and the decrease or static capacity to act of large collectivities have to be seen as complementary developments since the decline in the ability of large institutions to impose their will is linked to the enlargement of the capacity to act by individuals and small groups in society, for instance, in their capacity to say no or mobilize effective strategies of contention.
Knowledge societies are (to adopt a phrase from Adam Ferguson) the results of human action, but not of deliberate human design. They emerge as adaptations to persistent but evolving needs and changing circumstances of human conduct. Among the most significant transformations in circumstances that face human conduct is the continuous "enlargement" of human action, including an extension of its “limits to growth”. Modern societies as knowledge societies are becoming more fragile. But this does not mean that they are disintegrating. Increased individualism, for example, does imply an uncoupling from certain collective obligations and constraints and the distinct possibility that the role of the stranger becomes less and less strange for more and more individuals. But it does not suggest a complete uncoupling from collective consciousness and action restraints. In much the same way, while knowledge societies become more fragile, they do not lead to an arrest of social action. On the contrary, they lead to an enlargement and extension of forms of conduct, forms of life, chains of social interaction and channels of communication.
The enlargement in capacities to act occurs at an uneven pace and to an uneven degree. The outcome is a hitherto unknown contradiction: An increasingly larger proportion of the public acquires and exercises political skills, for example --including the choice of non-participation (cf. Stehr and Meja, 1996), or the denial that political activities are indeed political (cf. Magnussson, 1996:29-32) --, while the ability of the state and its agencies to "impose its will" or to exercise sovereignty is arrested, and typically even decreases.10 This leads to more fragile and volatile form of legitimate authority and more fragile powers of the state and of other major social institutions. In that sense the growth and the broader dissemination of knowledge paradoxically produces greater uncertainty and contingency rather than providing a resolution of disagreements or the basis for a more effective domination by central societal institutions.
Modern societies are also increasingly vulnerable entities. More specifically, the economy, the communication or traffic systems are vulnerable to malfunctions of self-imposed practices typically designed to avoid breakdowns. Modern infrastructures and technological regimes are subject to accidents as the result of fortuitous, unanticipated human action,11 to non-marginal or extreme natural events that may dramatically undermine the taken-for-granted routines of everyday life in modern societies or to deliberate sabotage.12 That societies appear to be assailable and sometimes even defenseless in the face of damaging or murderous attacks launched by dedicated individuals represents a fear as well a now taken-for-granted risk. However, my analysis of modern societies as fragile societies does not extend to its vulnerability in the face of attacks launched by "rebel" groups, revolutionary dissidents, extremists, assassins, terrorists bent on destroying the institutions they choose to assault, accidents or extreme natural events. It may indeed be difficult to clearly separate the profound susceptibility and vulnerability of modern society to such assaults and forms of aggression from what I am describing and analyzing here as the essential fragility of modern society. However, the two refer to entirely different sets of processes, motives and consequences. A society is vulnerable because -- prompted by profound disagreements about its very fabric and legitimacy -- large or small groups of individuals are determined to negate it. “Extraordinary” events13 that occur as the result of such a constellation of motives may be anticipated in principle; at least many large social institutions act and plan as if such events can be anticipated. The state for one prepares itself for events of this kind. “Revolutionary” activities are not new.
The fragility of modern societies as described here, however, is a unique condition. Societies are fragile because --- propelled by a marked enlargement of their capacities to act – individuals are capable, within certain established rules, to assert their own interests by opposing or resisting the -- not too long ago – almost unassailable monopoly of truth of major societal institutions. That is to say, legitimate cultural practices based on the enlargement and diffusion of knowledge enable a much larger segment of society to effectively oppose power configurations that turn out or are apprehended to be tenuous and brittle.14
Among the major but widely invisible social innovations in modern society is the immense growth of the “civil society” sector. The civil society sector recognizes the multitude of private, nonprofit, and nongovernmental organizations (Salomon and Anheier, 1997:60) that have emerged and grown considerably both in volume and in public influence in recent years in many countries of the developed world. This sector provides an organized basis through “which citizens can exercise individual initiative in the private pursuit of public purposes” (Salomon and Anheier, 1997:60).15
I also interpret the considerable enlargement of the informal economy, crime, corruption and the growth of wealth in modern society as well as increasing but typically unsuccessful efforts to police these spheres as evidence of the diverse as well as expanded capacity of individuals, households and small groups to take advantage of and benefit from contexts in which the degree of social control exercised by larger (legitimate) social institutions has diminished considerably.16
However, much of social science discourse has been preoccupied with the opposite phenomenon,17 namely the probable and dangerous enlargement of the ability of modern social institutions, especially various state institutions but also the economy, to more ruthlessly impose its will on its citizens. The classical social theorists as well as many of their more recent successors were concerned with discovering the conditions that produce and reproduce domination and repression rather than greater autonomy, freedom and independence. Modern science and technology typically were viewed, in the context of such analyses, as the handmaidens of regressive civilizational developments.
But whether the kinds of societal developments I am sketching constitute, as John Stuart Mill anticipated one hundred fifty years ago, a reconciliation of order and progress remains in doubt. Today, in fact, order and progress are essentially contested concepts and objectives. What is reconciliation to some invariably represents an unsustainable agenda for others. We are living in an age in which the expansion of individual choices is in conflict with traditional sentiments as well as with objectives that favor their restriction.
History has by no means ended, but it certainly has changed. The old rules, certainties and trajectories no longer apply. Of course, there are few opportunities of fresh starts in history. None the less, the future of modern society no longer mimics the past to the extent to which this has been the case. That is to say, the future is made from fewer fragments of the past. As a result, sentiments with respect to history that are becoming more pervasive are those of fragility and dislocation. History will increasingly be full of unanticipated incertitudes, peculiar reversals, proliferating surprises, and we will have to cope with the ever-greater speed of significantly compressed events. The changing agendas of social, political and economic life as the result of our growing capacity to make history will also place inordinate demands on our mental capacities. The fit or lack of fit between our knowledgeability and what society, the economy and culture mentally demands is one of the major challenges of knowledge societies.
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1Paper presented at the conference “Globalitás – tudástársadalom – lokalitás” of the Third Millenium Foundation, Fot, Hungary, December 28, 1999. The paper is based on my study The Fragility of Modern Societies. London: Sage, 2000.
2A more extended discussion of the sociological meaning of the term “knowledge” as used in this context may be found in Stehr, 1994:5-17 and Stehr, 2000a. Robert Lane (1966:650) first employed the term “knowlegeable society”, but it was Peter Drucker (1969) who first specifically referred to “knowledge society”, a term used later also by Daniel Bell (1973) and, more recently, by Gernot Böhme (1997). There have been various other attempts to find a term suited to describe the new type of social structure, including “science society” (Kreibich, 1986), “information society” (e.g. Nora and Minc, 1980), “postindustrial society” (Bell, 1973), “postmodernization” (e.g. Inglehart, 1995), “technological civilization” (Schelsky, 1961), and “network society” (Castells, 1996).
3Cp. Georg Simmel's ( 1992: 383-455) analysis of the secret and the secret society in his Soziologie.
4Alain Touraine ( 1988:111) captures well some of the long-term changes in social relations and goals. In mercantile societies, the "central locus of protest was called liberty since it was a matter of defending oneself against the legal and political power of the merchants and, at the same time, of counterposing to their power an order defined in legal terms. In the industrial epoch, this central locus was called justice since it was a question of returning to the workers the fruit of their labor and of industrialization. In programmed [or, post-industrial] society, the central place of protest and claims is happiness, that is, the global image of the organization of social life on the basis of the needs expressed by the most diverse individuals and groups." Touraine ( 1971: 3) employs the term "programmed" society for the new, emerging type of society in order to refer to the "nature of their production methods and economic organization".
5It is a widely shared assumption that social science knowledge and knowledge from the humanities is somehow less useful than natural science knowledge, and perhaps increasingly so as “modernization” advances: “The more post-industrial society becomes intellectualized, the more it tends to displace traditional value-oriented intellectual disciplines to the benefit of action-oriented ones, that is, those disciplines that can play a direct role in policy-making” (Crozier, 1975:32). For Crozier, the societal debasement of knowledge from the humanities produces a widespread sense of alienation among its carriers, namely intellectuals, and a general drift toward protest and even revolutionary posture.
6Compare Lazega's (1992) essay on the "information elaboration" in work groups and the relations between information and decision-making in and dependent on "local" contexts.
7If knowledge indeed "traveled" almost without impediments and could be reproduced largely at will, the idea would make considerable sense that scientists and engineers, as the creators of the "new" knowledge in modern society, should be located at the apex of power.
8Peter Drucker (1993:184) observes, however, that initial economic advantages gained by the application of (new) knowledge become permanent and irreversible. What this implies, according to Drucker, is that imperfect competition becomes a constitutive element of the economy. Knowledge can be disseminated or sold without leaving the context from which it is disseminated or sold. The edge that remains is perhaps best described as an advantage based on cumulative learning
9See especially Drucker (1986) and Lipsey (1992).
10As Michel Crozier ( 1982:5) observes, “the average citizen has never been so free in the range of choices as he is now and has never been able to exert so much influence when grouped together with others as he currently can.” Ronald Inglehart (1990a: 335-370) examines the enlargement of political skills of the public in Western societies in terms of a shift from "elite-directed" to "elite-challenging" politics.
11The Globe and Mail (July 17, 1999, National News) describes the breakdown of much of the communications system in the City of Toronto on July 16, 1999 as the result of an accidentally dropped tool that was the beginning of a chain-reaction disaster effecting not only Canada’s largest city as “a series of failures that revealed the fragility of the complex communications society takes for granted.”
12My conception of fragility therefore excludes what are clearly illegal activities that could hamper and interfere with establish patterns of social conduct, for example, the consequences that follow on the fabrication and at times fast spread of computer viruses (such as the one dubt Melissa in early 1999; cp. “Melissa virus suspect caught”, New York Times, April 3, 1999).
13Charles Euchner (1996) in his study Extraordinary Politics analyzes protest movements of recent decades and stipulates that their common denominator is that their members reject or violate the rules of conventional politics. Aside from the distinct possibility that modern protest movements change the rule of politics (cf. Clark and Hoffmann-Martinot, 1998) and are themselves transformed in the course of their struggles, the list of movements Euchner develops shows that it is very difficult to clearly distinguish between “ordinary” and extraordinary” political events.
14My emphasis on the individual ability to oppose and contest established power resonates with recent research that shows power relations to be multi-dimensional configurations. Such a perspective stresses, for example, that the notion of resistance must be redefined so “that it can be applied to a much wider range of socio-cultural practices and take into account the ways in which the subjectivity of the dominated is constrained, modified and conditioned by power relations” (Haynes and Prakash, 1992:2).
15Salomon and Anheier (1997:62) have attempted to quantify the growth and presence of the civil society sector in different countries: “In France, over 60,000 associations were created in 1990 alone, compared to less than 18,000 in 1961. Similarly, in Germany the number of associations per 100,000 population nearly tripled from 160 in 1960 to 475 in 1990. Even Hungary, within two years of the fall of communist rule, boasted over 13,000 associations. An Sweden, often regarded as the prototypical welfare state, displays some of the highest participation rates in civil society worldwide.” The growth of international non-governmental organizations is sketched in Boli and Thomas, 1997.
16The point is made very well in a study of street vendors and the state administration in Mexico City or the political economy of informality as the author calls it. Cross (1998:228) observes that street vending in Mexico City has “experienced vigorous growth despite state policies designed to control it and even, at times, to reduce or eliminate it.” The growth of street vending activity the author describes certainly has economic reasons but what is important as well, and perhaps more significant in this context, is the “ability of street vendors collectively to thwart or reverse administrative attempts to control them that would, if successful, have prevented such an explosive growth” (Cross, 1998:228).
17A growing number of studies are investigating these structural changes in industrialized and less developed countries. The informal economy, for example, is examined in the form of a number of case studies in Portes, Castells, and Benton, 1989.