4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.

4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.

The IB ToK Guide (first assessment 2015) has a fairly detailed section broadly outlining definitions of “shared knowledge” and “personal knowledge”, this section is labelled ‘Knowledge in ToK’. It is strongly recommended that students refer to this section.

How you define shared and personal knowledge will, obviously, greatly influence how you respond to the question. I am broadly defining both terms through the area of Human Sciences, as such I define shared knowledge as a socio-cultural knowledge, broadly along the lines of a set of norms, values, signifiers and cultural mores. I am defining individual knowledge as knowledge acquired through individualised experience and perspective (such as memories, perceptions, emotions etc). These are neither the correct, nor only definitions of these terms

There needs to be a focus on defining shared and personal knowledge. Beyond merely definitions these terms will need to be explored, and in exploring them students will undoubtedly start to consider different types of knowledge (e.g. personal knowledge, group knowledge, privileged knowledge etc).

The command term is to ‘Discuss’ therefore looking at the knowledge issues in a number of different ways.

The Knowledge Questions arising from this PT will very much depend on how the terms shared and personal knowledge are defined. Such knowledge questions arising from the definitions that I have outlined could be:

1) How can we use the scientific method to establish the direction of causation in development of shared and personal knowledge ?

2) Would it be possible to group ways of knowing in order to establish a shared knowledge which supersedes individually perceived experience ?

3) If we accept an external shared knowledge exists are we also accepting an external objective reality ?

4) How do we situate the ‘breakthrough’ moments of innovators within a shared knowledge system ?

5) How might we establish whether paradigm shifts are more likely in a loose shared knowledge system ?

The range of KQ’s is near endless, these are just examples designed as starters for student thinking.

As in most questions the Areas of Knowledge that you choose to reference will have a significant influence on the content and direction of your essay. If I were to be writing this essay I would choose Human Sciences and The Arts as my AoK’s for reference. This is not because these are the best Areas of Knowledge to use, it’s just that they’re the most interesting areas for me personally in relation to this question. You may choose to use very different AoK’s and come up with a far better answer than me.

Rather than write a section on Human Sciences and section on the Arts separately I prefer to take themes from the KI (how shared knowledge shapes personal knowledge) and exemplify each theme through the AoK’s.


How shared Knowledge forms personal knowledge.

Socialisation / Culturization.

The most obvious ways in which shared knowledge forms personal knowledge in the human sciences are through processes of primary and secondary socialisation and culturization. Evidence for Primary & Secondary Socialisation could be drawn from a wide range of research including Bandura’s Bobo Doll research, Vygotsky’s Theory of Social Development, Maccoby’s theory of sex role development or Bem’s research into Gender Development. This is really only the tip of the ice-berg of research in this area.


Another area in which Human Sciences have shown empirically that shared knowledge shapes personal knowledge is through the social psychological study of Conformity. Almost any research from this area will demonstrate the link, a starting point might be the classics: Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison, Asch’s Lines Research, Crutchfield .

Another area of interest here might be the research into the Psychology of Obedience: research such as Milgram’s Obedience research or Hofling’s study of nurses.    This research shows that social norms influence personal knowledge & therefore individual behaviour. However, it could be argued (as counterpoint) that the ‘individualised knowledge’ of difference (maybe embarrassment etc) is changing behaviour, which then effects the whole group / shared knowledge.

Artistic Movements.

A good place to start explaining how shared knowledge influences personal knowledge with references to The Arts is in the growth and spread of Artistic Movements. Students could explore how socio-cultural changes at a particular place & time fed through to changes in the artistic world (e.g. The Renaissance) this then fed through to a change in which individuals saw / understood their world, ie shared knowledge shaping personal knowledge.

Cultural Memes

Another example from The Arts may be the germination and spread of cultural memes (including internet memes) – interesting article here. It could be argued that the quick spread of a meme demonstrates the influence of the shared knowledge system over the individual knowledge system. However, in counterarguments students may want to consider the direction of causation: it could be argued that it was individual knowledge which led to the creation of the original meme.

Ambitious ToK students could discuss Roland Barthes book S/Z which looks at the codes of meaning in Balzac’s book Sarrasine. Barthes looks at how the different processes of encoding are either individually or collectively produced and consumed. The book is a good exploration of the bi-directional nature of shared and individualised knowledge. A critique of S/Z

Personal Knowledge is dominant over shared knowledge.

We could look to apparently innate behaviours to argue against the question, this argument would be based on the premise that inherited behaviours are fairly fixed, and free of social influence. Clear examples of this is seen in the genetic influences of attraction. This could be cited using Wedekind’s Sweaty T Shirt research (from the Human Sciences AoK).

Sweaty T-Shirt Research

This research was developed from the evolutionary psychology perspective on attraction, the research details are here, essentially Wedekind’s research shows that women are most attracted to men whose major histocompatibility complex were the opposite of their own. Similarly Martha McClintock at the Uni of Chicago has demonstrated that women are more attracted to men who smell like their father. These research findings could be used as evidence for an innate ‘personal’ knowledge, which is to a greater degree unaffected by shared (social/collective) knowledge.  As such this evidence is arguing counterpoint to the question. Other findings from evolutionary psychology could also be used (e.g. neurological motivation & reward systems in use of social media, or satiety systems in formation of eating disorders etc). 

In terms of The Arts it could be argued that moments of deep innovation become genre breaking (or ‘mould smashing’). These moments are the product of an individuals autonomous creativity, fairly independent of their social environment. Such people may be described as having a creative personality. Students could consider the ‘birth’ of significant artistic movements (such as surrealism), or the career of those deemed to be eccentric idiosyncratic artists, arguing that their contribution was to the shared knowledge, rather than taken from the shared knowledge.

Shared and personal knowledge are inseparable, and possibly the same thing.

It could be argued that the relationship between shared and personal knowledge is bi-directional, with each sphere shaping the other. There are a plethora of examples which could be drawn from both Human Sciences and The Arts. I will focus on a few of my favourites here. I am sure that you can find your own, more pertinent examples.

Human Sciences.

Jung’s Archetypes & collective subconscious

Carl Jung argued that we share a set of common psychological meanings, he called these ‘Archetypes’, which are models of how we understand phenomenon (for example there are archetypes for mother, persona, the self, father, child etc). So, the archetypes are a shared public knowledge which exist in the personal knowledge sphere.

The Archetypes are said to exist within the Collective Unconscious, this is the unconscious that all members of a particular species share, it is the aggregate set of memories of that species. Again, this is a shared public knowledge which is experienced at a personal level.

Bio-Psych – Neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is a term used to describe the influence of the external environment upon the physical neurological structure of the brain, including both synaptic changes and neural pathways. The process shows that external (shared) knowledge can change internal individualised experience (which could be a definition of personal knowledge), and the opposite direction of causality is also demonstrated. There are numerous research studies which can be used to show this relationship, I would suggest that this is a good article in which to find the ‘classic’ evidence.

Interpretation of art.

From The Arts students could look at the interpretation of art in order to show a bidirectional relationship between shared knowledge and personal knowledge. This discussion might look at the relationship between the viewer / subject and the the object. This process involved the bringing of social/shared knowledge to the interpretation, and the individualised nature of interpretation / experience. There are numerous texts & essays on this relationship, however I would recommend John Berger Ways of Seeing as a starting point.

I think that there is wide scope throughout this question for discussing the effects of digital technology, particularly as applied to social media. Each section could be written with reference to technology & social media – this could also be linked to Human Sciences & The Arts (or to any other AoK as needed). Some possible reading on this may be texts by Marc Prensky on different use of the internet for work, leisure and education.

As I explained at the beginning, this is just my interpretation of the question, and my suggestions as to what could be included. Use this as an example of how the question could be answered – a suggestion for what an essay may look like, rather than as a structure for an actual essay. I would suggest that you develop your own interpretation and suggestions for content, you’ll find it much easier to write to your own ideas.

Please feel free to share comments and thoughts in the comments box below. Remember “sharing is caring”, and “lack of communication is unhealthy”.

Best of luck Tok’rs..


A quick note: There are far fewer external links in this post, and in posts henceforth. When writing this post I inadvertently linked to an unauthorised site (little did I know this at the time). The blog was then closed down for 48 hrs before WordPress kindly gave me an opportunity to rectify the problem. As such I will now be much more careful with the links that I post on the blog. If you want help finding sources for a particular reference then do get in touch with me and I’ll help you where I can (contact: danieltrump@gmail.com)


142 thoughts on “4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.

  1. Hi thank you for your article but I am having diffuclities to find a KI. And I did not fully understand that we had to have one central KI and like two small ones for each AOK? I choose art and religion focused on the point which one encourages uniqueness would it be appropriate or to narrow? Also do we have to blend AOKs together or can I discuss them indivually and connect at the conclusion?

  2. and also if you are available may you check out by essay before ı put in to turnitin and perhaps give some opinion to improve. my instructor is not very attentive and ı am not sure what ı did

    1. I very much recommend to all students that they consult with their ToK Teacher when it comes to reading essays in advance of submission. Your ToK teacher knows you, and as such they are best placed to give appropriate and insightful advice. If you feel that your teacher is inattentive then it is best to have a courageous discussion, and raise this issue with them.

      Best of luck with your essay, and your DP exams in May

  3. Can you please explain how Bandura Bobo Doll Experiment is linked to how shared knowledge shape personal knowledge? I understand that the children are influence by violence shown by the adult but how is that shared knowledge? Thank you.

  4. Dear Mr. Trump,

    I was thinking of using Darwin’s theory as my Real life situation. I am thinking of talking about how his theory was affected by his religious beliefs. do you think it would be a good idea to use Natural sciences and religious knowledge systems as my 2 AOKs?

    Also, my WOK would be:
    • Emotion
    • Reason
    • Imagination
    • Faith
    • Memory

    Finally, what KQ do you think would be appropriate for my essay?

    Thanks so much in advance, and by the way, GREAT article, very informative and detailed thank you!

  5. Hello! Mr.Daniel
    I decided to do my tok essay on how shared knowledgre shapes personal knowledge in human and natural sciences. But, I am struggling a lot with how to include ways of knowing into it.
    Please help

  6. Thank you so much for posting this!

    I have to sumbit my essay tomorrow for the 1st revision but I’m having trouble formulating my KQ. Would you please tell me if this is ok? “To what extent has shared knowledge changed our perspective of the world?” The AoK i’m going to use are history and the human sciences.

    1. Your KQ is good if you have been able to find real life examples, and claims / counterclaims to discuss it. “our perspective of the world” is about as wide as a statement could be, narrowing it down may help you to write your essay.

      Best of luck with your essay!

  7. Hello sir!

    I decided to do my tok essay on how shared knowledgre shapes personal knowledge(titel nr. 4) in the arts and human scienses. But, I am struggling a lot with how to write a knowledge question. I looked at both your exmples and the IB guide about KQ, however it is still not helping.
    Please help

  8. Hi! Thanks for the ideas . I’ve decided to look at the authoritative nature of shared knowledge, and how this may mandate our personal knowledge. The AOKs I decided to look at are primarily Religion and the natural sciences. In the sciences this authority would be in its objectivity and establishment. In religion, this would be a moral authority, where tradition dominates over personal knowledge. DO you have some examples of Real life examples that could be included?

  9. Hi, Mr. Trump, i’m doing TOK essay on question, “The knower’s perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” To what extent do you agree?
    Based on this question, I come out with this KQ which is, “to what extent can shared knowledge shape the pursuit of individual knowledge?”. But, right now, I have a problem because I stucked on the areas of knowledge to explore. I hope you can help me. Thanks Mr.
    Trump 🙂

    1. Hi, choose Areas of Knowledge that you are interested in, that you enjoy exploring, and that you have a good knowledge base in. Your KQ lends itself to any AoK, it’s your interests which are of more pertinence.

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