Critical discourse analysis of perspectives on knowledge and the knowledge society within the Sustainable Development Goals

Sarah Cummings*, Barbara Regeer, Leah de Haan, Marjolein Zweekhorst, Joske Bunders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is employed to analyze discourses of knowledge and the knowledge society in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Discourse analysis is a collective name for a number of scientific methodologies for analyzing semiosis, namely how meaning is created and communicated though written, vocal or sign language. Employing a genealogical approach which locates discourses in the field of prior discourses, two prior discourses of the knowledge society are identified in the key document of the SDGs. The concepts knowledge and knowledge society are found to have a marginal position within the main policy document “Transforming our world,” adopted by the United Nations in September 2015. The techno-scientific-economic discourse is found to be dominant at the level of implementation and of goals, while there is some evidence of the pluralist-participatory discourse at the level of vision and strategy. Analysis of some of the policy advice provided by international organizations and civil society indicates that more pluralist-participatory discourses on knowledge were represented when the SDGs were being formulated. Developed countries and the corporate sector were very influential in determining the final text and were probably instrumental in excluding more transformational discourses and maintaining the status quo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)727-742
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopment Policy Review
Issue number6
Early online date12 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018



  • Agenda Knowledge for Development
  • critical discourse analysis
  • knowledge societies
  • local knowledge
  • Sustainable Development Goals

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