May 26, 2021
35: In what ways do values affect the production of knowledge?
Object 1: Baby Cage
My interest in the knowledge surrounding child health care and development arose from a CAS engagement, babysitting three toddlers. The “health cage,” invented by Robert C Lafferty in the 1900’s, provided city-dwelling babies with fresh air and sunshine.
Designed to be suspended from the window so the child could
sleep outside, its use was stopped before it became commonplace
and understood how “airing” babies could be beneficial to them,
because the dominant value of protecting infants did not accept the ethics behind the object so building a barrier to innovation. However, Lafferty’s values motivated him to investigate further in order to improve babies’ health.
The cage is particularly interesting for this exhibition because a woman, Eleonor Roosevelt, who had no knowledge about child-care, bought a chicken wire to place her daughter in for naps. Her neighbours threatened to report her to child protection services. This suggests that the lack of knowledge about the human respiratory system and its development in young babies led to moral disagreement. As a result, this halted the development of the object which was believed to be beneficial for babies’ health.
It is possible to see how Lafferty’s values motivated him to design the device. He wanted to improve child health care, whilst giving a break to mothers: instead of having women watch over children outdoors, babies were able to do it behind bars unsupervised. Lafferty valued improvement in child health, leading him to explore this field, therefore investigating biologically and eventually allowing him to invent the ‘Baby cage’.
Object 2: The first ever bow and arrow
The oldest arrowheads were discovered in 1983. Scientists believe the first people to use the tool were from Sibidu Cave, South Africa, 20000 years ago. Bows and arrows were simple in design, the arrowhead being made from sharp stone. The first bows and arrows created extra leverage enabling those who used it to hunt dangerous animals from a distance, and so reflected past values, as an object required for survival. However, now societies have adopted the value to care for the animal kingdom and the need to preserve our environment to survive. I myself have rejected factory farming because, with the knowledge acquired over the years, I know it is bad. However, this is different to my ancestors’ values: they had to consume whatever was available in order to survive.
This object is particularly interesting for this exhibition because
its invention was to add precision to hunting for survival. This
shows us that knowledge regarding human survival has
developed over time and humans have realized that they depend
on the natural world, which has changed their values which has
made us investigate one type of knowledge even further. In this
way their needs for survival (food from hunting) affected the
production of their knowledge, as everything they wanted to
know and “researched” was based around hunting tools, making
the first ever bow and arrow a priority for survival.
This object also enriches this exhibition because it is possible to see that humans’ instinct for survival will decide what individuals want to know. For us to survive we need to rely on animals and the environment. The bow and arrow is the expression of the need to survive, but in the intervening 2000 years we have gained knowledge allowing us to develop new values regarding hunting. The object does not represent a moral value, but a necessity. This shows that the knowledge acquired since then has led us to condemn the use of bows and arrows.
Object 3: Racially segregated bathroom sign
Being a student in an international school who uses social media, I realise how privileged I am, and this makes me want to understand where discrimination originates and why it is still present. This object was chosen so I could investigate this problem.
This restroom sign from 1929 is from the Jean Byers Sampson
Center for Diversity at the University of Southern Maine in
Portland. It explores U.S. segregationist policies, demonstrating
how, based upon belief in the existence of racial categories, the
U.S. produced ‘knowledge’ leading to a hierarchy of superior and
inferior races. However, the more society experienced, the more it understood that racism was not just name-calling, but a systematic denial of equality. Their values changed and so did the production of knowledge, done through the use of activism and leadership, leading to the start of change regarding segregation.
It is interesting for this exhibition because it divides humankind into different biologically distinct groups, useful for justifying discrimination. This suggests that society had no positive values regarding African Americans, as they were socialized into discriminating based on faulty biological knowledge, such as believing black people had smaller brains, a manifestation of racist values. However, the more anatomical knowledge developed, the more their values changed, so this sign highlights how values regarding black people were negative. Over time, the values that white Americans possessed imposed a negative value to African-Americans.
If American society at that time had not held such values, discriminatory actions would not have occurred: if their values accepted all races equally then the production of knowledge would change, people would become more aware of this injustice and nothing would have justified discrimination. Therefore, when our values change this changes what society accepts as knowledge, we are then able to decide as a society what is worth investigating and not.