GROUPS AS EPISTEMIC COMMUNITIES
Studies on the Role of Groups in Forming and Circulating Social Knowledge
PUBLICATIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL RESEARCH 2015:10 This dissertation conceptualizes social groups as epistemic communities–that is, as communities that circulate and regard some things as credible knowledge based on its own idiosyncratic criteria. An epistemic community sets social standards—or, group epistemologies –for what is understood to be knowledge. The philosophical and social psychological underpinnings of an epistemic community are reviewed considering, inter alia, theories by Aristotle, Jan Smedslund, Steve Fuller, Alvin Goldman, Jürgen Habermas, Arie Kruglanski, Henri Tajfel, Anna Wierzbicka and Julia Annas. The literature on social knowledge is used to initiate a synthesis conceptualized as the epistemic calculus of groups. Theory is substantiated with empirical studies. A study shows that university students define even universal topics such as mathematics differently based primarily on whether they live in Finland or Norway, suggesting culturally different group epistemologies about math. A survey from the United States shows that even socio-economic group variables can be powerful predictors of how people view science and its relevance to society at large. Even more surprisingly, the pan-European data shows that occupational groups of politicians and political journalists in diverse countries–Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Slovenia, Austria and Switzerland–may transcend national boundaries to develop a set of goals. These goals of political communication provide the rules of thumb for reasonable political knowledge for the professional. These rules appear so strong and so well developed across nations that they are likely to cause epistemic struggle and disagreement between the professionals. Who gets to define what we pass as knowledge?