Democratization of knowledge

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The democratization of knowledge is the acquisition and spread of knowledge amongst the common people, not just privileged elites such as clergy and academics. There are both positive and negative societal aspects to it, which are particularly worth considering in light of the advent of the digital age.


The printing press was one of the early steps towards the democratization of knowledge.

Another small example of this during the Industrial Revolution was the creation of libraries for miners in some Scottish villages in the 18th century.[1]

Wikipedia is rapidly turning into a real-time reference tool in which public entries can be updated by anyone at any time. This phenomenon—a product of the digital age—has greatly contributed to the democratization of knowledge in the post-modern era. At the same time, it has raised a number of valid criticisms in this regard (see Reliability of Wikipedia page). For instance, one could draw a distinction between the mere spread of information and the spread of accurate or credible information. Wikipedia may thus be a more reliable source of information in certain spheres, but not necessarily in others.

In the Digital Age[edit]

The democratization of technology has played a major facilitating role. Wikipedia co-founder, Larry Sanger, states in his article,[2] that “Professionals are no longer needed for the bare purpose of the mass distribution of information and the shaping of opinion.” Sanger’s article confronts the existence of “common knowledge” and pits it against knowledge that everyone agrees on.

In terms of democratization of knowledge, Wikipedia has played a major role. For instance, Wikipedia has attracted 400 million viewers across the globe and has communicated with them in over 270 languages.

Google Book Search has been pointed to as an example of democratization of knowledge, but Malte Herwig in Der Spiegel raised concerns that the virtual monopoly Google has in the search market, combined with Google's hiding of the details of its search algorithms, could undermine this move towards democratization.[3]

Scientific knowledge[edit]

The website eBird has been described as an example of democratization of scientific knowledge, as it enlists amateurs to gather data on biodiversity for use by scientists.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For example, in Leadhills in 1741 and in Wanlockhead in 1756. Olive Checkland (1980). Philanthropy in Victorian Scotland. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-85976-041-6 
  2. ^ “Who Says We Know: On the New Politics of Knowledge”
  3. ^ Herwig, Malte (28 March 2007). "Google's Total Library: Putting The World's Books On The Web". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  4. ^ "The Role of Information Science in Gathering Biodiversity and Neuroscience Data", Geoffrey A. Levin and Melissa H. Cragin, ASIST Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 1, Oct. 2003