Personal and Shared Knowledge

Key Words and Terms

Knowledge can be described as a tool with which people interpret the world and society around them. Through knowledge, one is able to understand his or her social-cultural, political and geographical environments, and come up with ways of integrating or adapting to achieve life goals. Knowledge can be roughly divided into shared and personal knowledge (Levine, Thompson and Messick 34). Although these are essentially different, they are inherently connected with each other and shape an individual’s interaction and interpretation.

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Shared knowledge is the awareness that one develops from social, cultural norms, values and other interactions within society. It is inclusive of the bodies of knowledge that are developed as a result of a collaborative study and research, which tend to develop and change with time, and new discoveries. Shared knowledge can also be thought of in terms of the familiarity that is ideally universal within the social folds of a given community, ethnic group, gender or race.

Personal knowledge, on the other hand, is the knowledge individuals gain from their own experiences. It includes perception, memory and/or emotions. The key difference between these two types is that the former is easily shared since it exists in linguistically or practically conceivable terms, while personal knowledge is much more difficult to share for the reason that it is mostly individualised and abstract.

Real Life Situation

In spite of the apparently different definitions, the two are not as distinct as they may appear. In addition to being independent at times, they can be the same thing. It is important to prove this by examining two different bodies of knowledge that have import on personal and shared knowledge that these two types are inherently connected. I will narrate an experience I had a few months ago. One of my nieces, aged 3, was at our home playing with my siblings when she came about a dead lizard. I do not think she had ever seen one dead or alive since she picked it up and proudly went to show it to my mother.

Like many people, Mom is afraid of lizards and the moment she saw it in the child’s hand, she screamed in horror, but she managed to knock it to the ground. Right there, I witnessed a startling transformation, and the child suddenly moved away from the lizard on the ground. When I later tried to get her to pick it up again, she ran off in tears. From this example, one is forced to ask to what extent is personal knowledge affected by shared knowledge.

My mother’s fear of small animals is both personal and shared. Since it is emotional, my mother’s fear of lizards could be described as personal because it makes her experience panic. However, she has clearly shared this very personal knowledge with her grandniece that is unlikely to touch a lizard again.

Knowledge Issues

Another way of looking at it will show that a great deal of what is perceived to be shared knowledge is actually starts as personal knowledge, and is only described as shared since it has been documented and/or expressed in a way that can be understood by the masses (Briley and Aaker 396). History, for example, as a body of knowledge can been argued quite logically so that the subject is not a record of past events per se, but a collection of an historian’s perceptions of events (Grabher and Ibert 254).

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For instance, a European philosopher came across a group of native Americans or Africans and engaged in a ritual that was new to him. He interpreted it based on his present level of self-awareness and claimed, for instance, that the people are savages. However, the fact that he might not have interacted with them or even stopped to critically examine what they were doing, may result in his misconception being put down as a historical “fact” and he as the witness.


Generally, people tend to believe and rely on scientific knowledge, which is based on the aforementioned definition. Thus, it would be classified under shared knowledge (Marková et al. 7). That green is a combination of yellow and blue is an example of a common albeit simple scientific fact. However, science is not as impersonal like a simplistic example may imply. Polanyi (54) attempts to demonstrate that the personal participation of a scientist in his or her area of knowledge is in the discovery and validation in invariably a personal pursuit of knowledge.

Even in exact sciences, such as nuclear psychics, knowing makes the public understand fundamentally a personal art, which is then translated into shared knowledge when it is released or made (Polanyi 49). Additionally, scientific investigations, especially empirical ones, form conclusions based on one’s understanding about what they see, which can be described as their inference (Chiu, Hsu and Wang 1880).

In many ways, personal knowledge can be equated to subjectivity, while shared knowledge is seen as being more objective. However, this assumption is not restrictive since both share elements of objectivity and subjectivity (Polanyi 73). When a scientist seeks to investigate or validate something, he or she relies on the interaction between what the or she already knows and what he or she is witnessing. Therefore, one’s educational or social-cultural backgrounds may have considerable impacts on his or her conclusions, even in the most objective situations (Kirschner et al. 419).

According to the theory of social learning by Albert Bandura, human beings are born with a blank slate for a mind, and everything they learn is obtained from society and the environment around them (Ormrod and Davis 297). In my first example, the situation engenders the fundamentals of social learning. My niece has learnt that lizards are bad and should not be touched or played with at any location. Is this correct or not? That is unimportant.

The key thing is that her future interactions with that and similar creatures will form the basis of her personal understanding of them. She will forever be influenced by my mother’s reaction. The example may have appeared excessively dramatic, but it is the embodiment of every learning experience one undergoes from birth. Language is acquired from those around us, so are social norms and values. Using these, persons can attend school and learn more knowledge as they also construct new ideas by using the things they already know.

When children are taken to a school where they are a minority race, there is a chance that they might be treated with hostility of discrimination. One of my friends, who is Asian, told me that he studied in an American high school where he was the only non-white student. Since he could not speak English very well,he was constantly teased and isolated. Sometimes, he was even harassed by the bigger boys, and it was quite clear they were doing it because he was different. Consequently, he grew up awry of white people and even when he moved to a more diverse senior high school, he tended to keep to himself or fellow Asians.

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Challenges of the question

Unlike the observations of the likes of Darwin, which can and have been revisited through study of available evidence, the words of a historian would be harder to discredit, especially when there is no evidence, save for their records (Schank and Robert 367). This implies that in history, some of the shared knowledge is actually based on subjective personal knowledge and may not even qualify as knowledge in the first place on the grounds that it is not based on factual data.

On the other hand, the misleading conclusion a historian draws from his personal knowledge in not inherent, but originates from his interaction with shared knowledge on the subject. He or she may have, for example, been brought up in a society that believed in Aryan supremacy, like Europeans did in the 17th and 18th centuries. Therefore, his or her conclusion that the “natives” are savages is influenced by the shared cultural and political assumptions that non-white people tend to be less civilised.

Furthermore, he or she may have been drawing from the works of historians before him or her, who had claimed that natives in certain parts of the world participated in certain savage rituals, such a human sacrifice. Therefore, although what he or she observed could probably have been a dramatised dance, his or her personal knowledge is influenced by the shared one.

These are typical cases of personal knowledge being informed by shared knowledge. Children who pick on him can be categorised as sharing an ethnic or racial aspect of shared knowledge that makes them feel superior, either because they are many or white. However, in my friend’s case, the fear and suspicion of white people is exclusive to him, a feeling he can only express, but not really share with others.

Ergo, his personal knowledge, which contributes to the character and can be traced back to the shared perceptions of others that directly influence him. At the end of the day, drawing from scientific, historical and social fields of knowledge, it is evident that what is construed as personal knowledge is often influenced and determined by shared knowledge (Jung 10627). The opposite is also true in many cases as demonstrated in this paper.

Even in empirical investigations whose results can be classified as shared objective data, personal knowledge is also applied. One can propose that the two types of knowledge are both related and contradictory since they seem to depend on and even construct each other while at the same time they can be juxtaposed. Thus, it would be critical to assert that the question is not easy, especially when one is addressing it for the first time. From my perspective, it took me relatively long period to decipher concepts in the question, which went a long way in helping me to understand in depth.

Works Cited

Briley, Donnel, and Jennifer Aaker. “When does culture matter? Effects of personal knowledge on the correction of culture-based judgments.” Journal of Marketing Research 43.3 (2006): 395-408. Print.

Chiu, Chao-Min, Meng-Hsiang Hsu, and Eric Wang. “Understanding knowledge sharing in virtual communities: an integration of social capital and social cognitive theories.” Decision support systems 42.3 (2006): 1872-1888. Print.

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Grabher, Gernot, and Oliver Ibert. “Bad company? The ambiguity of personal knowledge networks.” Journal of Economic Geography 6.3 (2006): 251-271. Print.

Jung, Jason. “Knowledge distribution via shared context between blog-based knowledge management systems: A case study of collaborative tagging.” Expert Systems with Applications 36.7 (2009): 10627-10633. Print.

Kirschner, Paul, Pieter Beers, Henny Boshuizen, and Wim Gijselaers. “Coercing shared knowledge in collaborative learning environments.” Computers in Human Behavior 24.2 (2008): 403-420. Print.

Levine, John, Leigh Thompson, and David Messick, eds. Shared cognition in organizations: The management of knowledge. New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2013. Print.

Marková, Ivana, Per Linell, Michèle Grossen, and Anne Orvig. Dialogue in focus groups: Exploring socially shared knowledge. London, United Kingdom: Equinox, 2007. Print.

Ormrod, Ellis, and Kevin Davis. Human learning. New York, NY: Merrill, 2004.Print.

Polanyi, Michael. Personal knowledge: Towards a post-critical philosophy. Chicago, CA: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Print.

Schank, Roger, and Robert Abelson. Scripts, plans, goals, and understanding: An inquiry into human knowledge structures. New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2013. Print.

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