The fragmentation of knowledge

In an acceptance speech published in the American Society for Information, Science and Technology (Feburary/ March 2001) Professor Emeritus Donald R. Swanson comments on this idea of ‘the fragmentation of knowledge.’ He highlights three aspects of the context and nature of this fragmentation:

  1. The disparity between the total quantity of recorded knowledge and the limited human capacity to assimilate it (how can the frontiers of science be pushed forward if, someday, it will take a lifetime just to reach them?)
  2. A recent explosion of information has sprouted new specialities but little cross-speciality communication between them.
  3. The connection explosion may be more portentous than the information explosion.


Top 25 quotes azquotesSo what does this all mean? It means that there’s a lot of knowledge out there but little connection is being made between. Why is it so important? It’s important because one speciality may have the solution that another speciality needs.


Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist writer whose first publication Women and Sex aimed to educate young girls and mothers about the importance of sanitation in cultural genital practices. Many have asked Nawal whether she found tension or conflict between he role as a health minister and her role as a writer:


I didn’t find any conflict between my scientific education and my artistic tendencies. This separation between science and art is false; it’s exactly like the separation between body and mind and spirit. There is no separation whatsoever. Creativity brings all these fragmented areas [of science, politics, art, photography] together. And one of the weak points in education, in general, is that this fragmentation of knowledge, they separate in schools and in colleges, in what they call science and art.  


In school, we were taught that separate the sciences from the arts, and yet Nawal argues that a separation of the two is detrimental to the human pursuit of knowledge and progress. In our fear of being inundated by information and all its complexities, we tend to over simply things in attempt to understand it. The same way certain perceptions over-simplify gender discrimination.


British feminist writer Laura Bates recounts the double/ triple/ quadruple discrimination experienced by women who are not white, cisgendered, middle class, non-disabled. She argues that intersectionaility is important to strengthen the campaign for gender equality, and that those who exclude other social groups from feminism are guilty of the same crimes of their perpetrators.


Effectively, the fragmentation of knowledge is the personification of the colonisation of the human condition. Nawal adequately states:


The more I understand why women were oppressed; the more I understand about feminism in our region, the more I know that we are whole and we should look to knowledge as a whole, not as fragmented areas.


By Kelechi Iwumene.


Nawal will be in conversation at Africa Writes, the UK’s biggest African literature festival happening at The British Library, 1-3 July 2016.






  • ASIST Award of Merit Acceptance Speech: On the Fragmentation of Knowledge, the Connection Explosion, and Assembling Other People’s Ideas, Wiley Online Library, 2005
  • Walking Through Fire, Upon Reflection, Nawal El Saadawi interview for UWTV, 1994.
  • Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates (Simon & Schuster UK, 2014)