Chapter 1: Introduction – Virtual Knowledge

Sally Wyatt, Andrea Scharnhorst, Anne Beaulieu, and Paul Wouters

The widespread diffusion of digital technologies has played a key role in drawing attention to the importance of information and knowledge for a variety of contemporary economic and social forms. Scholars, industrialists, politicians and policy makers are all engaged in discussing, analyzing and even promoting knowledge-based economies. This book focuses on the question of whether there is anything new when knowledge is produced in the digital age. Does knowledge itself change when the tools of knowledge acquisition, representation and distribution become digital? Do new actors become involved and/or do traditional actors become less prominent in knowledge production? Are there shifts in power relations around knowledge? Are traditional definitions of knowledge affected? These questions are addressed in this book, in relation to the academic system and to scholarly and professional practices. Change is not always for the better thus it is also necessary to raise questions about what kinds of changes and innovations are desirable and worthy of being promoted, from the perspective of researchers and society more generally. We use the term virtual knowledge throughout this book to evoke these questions. Before we explain this term more fully, the five vignettes presented below illustrate the kinds of changes in knowledge production with which the contributors to this book are concerned.

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