Knowledge has been a resource of central importance during all of human history. Still, the term is a matter of definition. The collaborative research centre SFB 1070 understands knowledge as a three step composition of experience, perception and interpretation. Human beings do not perceive their surroundings without pre-conceptions. Instead, they pre-select and assign cultural meaning to everything perceived. The patterns configuring this creation of meaning are based on previous experiences and forms of memorising. Everything perceived and memorised may also be consciously interpreted or re-interpreted. Thus, knowledge is the result of a multi-layered process of recording, saving and mental processing of information about the world. The preservation and transmission, but the constant updating of knowledge as well, are of central importance in any culture. To this end objects like pictures, texts and monuments or institutions like guilds or schools are created that take an active role in the transmission of knowledge by using practices like tales or rituals. Knowledge therefore has three dimensions: a corpus of evidence, forms of representation and social practices and institutions related to those (Foucault 1973; 1976; Barth 2002). The collaborative research centre SFB 1070 explores these three dimensions, detectable in the sources of the participating disciplines in various ways, with a variety of case studies. If the nature of the sources allows, Michael Polanyi’s differentiation (1966) of explicit and implicit knowledge will be considered as well. Knowledge is explicit if it consciously commands a subject and, if necessary, may express them verbally. Implicit or tacit knowledge is a part of intuitional thinking and acting not based on explicit rules or theorems. This includes sensations, sentiments, social rules and values but also learned and trained physical abilities and reflexes that are part of human acting. This basic differentiation is described as practical and discursive knowledge by other scholars.

Another approach relevant for SFB 1070 contemplates the relation between knowledge and power. Following Foucault, this relationship of knowledge and power often is described as mutual: not only does knowledge implicate power, knowledge also is directed by the mechanisms of power (Foucault 1973; 1976; Weiler 2005). Knowledge that is considered as relevant is dependent on a number of factors, such as the funding of research, curricula or the focus of media. Social processes assign determinative authority to certain groups commonly labelled ‘experts’. This demands a scrutinising of the creation of expertise, the assignment of authority and the economising of knowledge (Boyer 2008; Engelhardt/Kajetzke 2015; Hornidge 2013). Amongst others, technical expertise, language competence, practical know-how, medical and scientific knowledge, environmental awareness, historical wisdom, collective memories and religious lore are KnowledgeResources analysed by different case studies of SFB 1070.