Knowledge: Understanding the World

K is for Knowledge...
K is for Knowledge…

Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!

There are three ways a society deals with knowledge: they encourage the pursuit of it, they allow the pursuit of it, or they actively forbid the accumulation of it. 

A civilization can do all of these things at different points in time, but there are two points in time you need to be concerned with in your worldbuilding.

How did they (the established authorities) treat the pursuit of knowledge in the years directly preceding the start of your story, and how do they treat the pursuit of knowledge at the time of your story?

The Pursuit of Knowledge

How much does each culture know?

How technologically advanced are they, and is their knowledge in that area still growing?

How do they store information?

The Encouraged Pursuit

What incentives are offered, what rewards, for displaying a love of knowledge?

Are the governing authorities actively involved in gathering knowledge?

Are there any limitations on the types of knowledge accessible to the everyday people?

If there are limitations, how are they explained to the people?

Is any type of schooling mandatory for all people?

What types of higher education are available, and how much is the government involved in maintaining standards?

The Allowed Pursuit

Does the government take an active role in the sharing of knowledge, or is it left up to individuals?

Are there any institutions of higher learning? Who is in charge of them, and are there any minimum standards that are required to be met?

Are children/young people expected to go through a minimum amount of schooling? If not, how far does the average child go, if it all?

The Forbidden Pursuit

When the pursuit of knowledge is forbidden, there are two things that can happen:

The governing authorities spread their own version of knowledge. (Brainwashing and propaganda.)


They actively destroy knowledge. (Book burnings, people mysteriously disappearing – especially teachers, isolation from other cultures…)

The actions they take will based on why they are limiting knowledge. Are they doing so because they’re trying to hide knowledge of a specific event (or events) from the public for the perceived good of the people? Or are they limiting knowledge to maintain complete control of the people?

The same questions in the Encouraged and Allowed pursuit of knowledge sections apply to this one, but the motives behind each answer will be vastly different.

In Conclusion…

How the governing authorities deal with knowledge will affect every walk of life in a society. It will change how characters are perceived, especially if they think the government is to blame for any hardships.

It will change how characters react to laws, to each other, and to circumstances outside their control. Especially if they feel they could have handled something better if they’d only known.

Original image used in header by Hc_07 under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license. The original image has been cropped and edited.

Recent Comments

  • Sophie Duncan
    April 12, 2014 - 2:40 am · Reply

    The suppression of knowledge can be an interesting place to leap off of in stories, especially if part of the plot is rediscovery of some of that. Logan’s Run is a film I like which is an example of that – knowledge and the seeking of it is just not encouraged, the young citizens are taught to accept their lot and enjoy themselves until it’s time for them to die to make way for others – although punishment for seeking knowledge is not overt, it is surreptitiously dealt with.
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX – A to Z Drabblerotic

    • Rebekah Loper
      April 12, 2014 - 8:53 am · Reply

      Indeed it can! In Catalyst, there’s a bit of knowledge suppression, but ‘they’ also tend to go more toward just tweaking the knowledge that’s available to be more favorable to their own society. Yay propaganda!

  • shanjeniah
    April 12, 2014 - 3:11 am · Reply

    Hi, Rebekah!

    I found your familiar name in the swarm of A-Z posts, and wanted to pop by and see what you’re up to….and I’m so glad I did!

    So much to think about, in just this one post. I’ll definitely be back for the rest of these posts – sometime after May, when I finish up challenges for a month, before CampNaNo in July.

    These may prove an invaluable resource for my rewrites!

    • Rebekah Loper
      April 12, 2014 - 8:55 am · Reply

      Hi Shan, good to see you here! I (probably unwisely) am doing Camp NaNo this month, too, on top of A-Z. I’m wondering why I did that at this point, lol.

      I’m glad these posts will help you out! 😀

      • shanjeniah
        April 12, 2014 - 11:33 am · Reply

        Maybe it’s a form of insanity? =)

        In my case, I’ve had this idea rolling around in my head for a year – and 3 unfinished WIP drafts I want to have completed by the end of the year.

        So I put both feet in the fire – and, next month, I’m going to play with fanfic for Story-a-Day May…


        Most likely.

        But it certainly is fun!

        • Rebekah Loper
          April 15, 2014 - 9:05 pm · Reply

          Insanity is definitely one way to keep life interesting! I’ve been toying with doing Story-a-Day May, but it may have to wait until next year.

          Fanfic is fun, though! Do you a specific fandom in mind, or a mish-mash of some?

          • shanjeniah
            April 15, 2014 - 9:11 pm ·

            Oh, I have something very specific in mind. I discovered Star Trek:Enterprise last spring, years after it was canceled (I was making people when it was new).

            I will be playing with the interspecies relationship between the Vulcan First Officer, T’Pol, and the extremely human Chief Engineer, Trip Tucker.

            And it will be wonderful. These two haven’t given me much rest in the last year!

          • Rebekah Loper
            April 15, 2014 - 9:29 pm ·

            Nice! I will admit that Enterprise is one of the ST series I haven’t watched – I grew up on the original series, and binge-watched Voyager a few years ago, and have caught most of Next Gen via reruns over the years.

            I completely understand characters not giving you peace, though! I’ve still got a couple of fanfics rolling around in the back of my head that I know won’t stop nagging me until I write them.

          • shanjeniah
            April 15, 2014 - 9:40 pm ·

            I was surprised to love Enterprise maybe more than the original series, and definitely all of the others. Voyager never caught me, but I’m going to give it another chance at some point.

            T’Pol is not at all a pedestal type Vulcan. She’s fascinating, all by herself, and when Trip gets added into the equation…

            May you find time and space to get those fanfics out into the light of day! =)

    • Rebekah Loper
      April 15, 2014 - 9:06 pm · Reply

      *nod* Finding out later that there’s so much that wasn’t just ‘not revealed’ but deliberately hidden has to mess with a character. Of course, if your guy never finds out… that could be a whole other type of mess, too!

  • A.M. Guynes (@annikkawoods)
    April 12, 2014 - 4:44 pm · Reply

    The pursuit of knowledge is the obsession of what becomes the governing body of the entire continent. It’s also what ultimately leads to their downfall. After that, seeking knowledge is less desirable. You’re right in how knowledge can shape a society as well as the lives of the main characters of a story.

What do you think?

About Rebekah

Rebekah Loper writes character-driven epic fantasy featuring resilient women in trying and impossible circumstances who just want to save themselves but usually end up saving the world, often while falling in love.
She lives in Tulsa, OK with her husband, dog, two formerly feral cats, a small flock of feathered dragons (...chickens. They're chickens), and an extensive tea collection. When she's not writing, she battles the Oklahoma elements in an effort to create a productive, permaculture urban homestead.