How does knowledge relate to political action?

Nico Stehr*, Reiner Grundmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


In this paper we investigate the relation between knowledge and political action, focusing on knowledge claims stemming from science that at the same time have relevance in a policy context. In so doing, we will revisit some well-known and some lesser known approaches, such as C.P. Snow's thesis of the two cultures and Mannheim's conceptualization of theory and practice. We arrive at a distinction between knowledge for practice and practical knowledge, which we briefly apply to the case of climate change science and policy. We state as our thesis that policy is ever more reliant on knowledge, but science can deliver ever less certainty. Political decisions and programs have to recognize this fact, either implicitly or explicitly. This creates a paradox that is normally resolved through the political decision and not the dissemination of "truth" in the sense of uncontested knowledge. We use the case of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as an example.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-44
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Early online date22 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • climate change
  • decision-making
  • knowledge
  • policy


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