Two paragraphs…

from “The Well-Informed Citizen – An Essay on the Social Distribution of Knowledge” by Alfred Schütz. Emphasis added by me.

The outstanding feature of a man’s life in the modern world is his conviction that his life-world as a whole is neither fully understood by himself nor fully understandable to any of his fellowmen. There is a stock of knowledge theoretically available to everyone, built up by practical experience, science, and technology as warranted insights. But this stock of knowledge is not integrated. It consists of a mere juxtaposition of more or less coherent systems of knowledge which themselves are neither coherent nor even compatible with one another. On the contrary, the abysses between the various attitudes involved in the approach to the specialized systems are themselves a condition of the success of the specialized inquiry.”

Thus the article begins. And so it ends:

“Socially approved knowledge is the source of prestige and authority; it is also he home of public opinion. Only he is deemed to be an expert or a well-informed citizen who is socially approved as such. Having obtained this degree of prestige, the expert’s or the well-informed citizen’s opinions receive additional weight in the realm of socially derived knowledge. In our time, socially approved knowledge tends to supersede the underlying system of intrinsic and imposed relevances. Polls, interviews, and questionnaires try to gauge the opinion of the man on the street, who does not even look for any kind of information that goes beyond his habitual system of intrinsic relevances. His opinion, which is public opinion as it is understood nowadays, becomes more and more socially approved at the expense of informed opinion, and therefore imposes itself as relevant upon the better-informed members of the community. A certain tendency to misinterpret democracy as a political institution in which the opinion of the uninformed man on the street must predominate increases the danger. It is the duty and the privilege, therefore, of the well-informed citizen in a democratic society to make his private opinion prevail over the public opinion of the man on the street.”

Social Research (1946), Vol. 13., 463-478.

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