Knowledge is often considered as being highly important to organisations. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century the economist Marshall noticed that “Knowledge is our most powerful engine of production”. Without knowledge, no production is conceivable, irrespective of whether the production of goods or services is at stake. In the current post-industrial era, in which more than 80% of the GNP of Western countries is produced in the service sector, knowledge is more important than ever. To be able to understand the organisational relevance of knowledge, a knowledge perspective on organisations – or ‘knowledge-based view’ of organisations – is needed.
However, although knowledge management scholars generally advocate explicit management of knowledge, some researchers argue that knowledge cannot be managed or that at least the unintended consequences of managing knowledge should be taken into account. After all, there is some paradox in wanting to manage knowledge: not managing knowledge may lead to inefficiency, uncertainty, chaos or expensive mistakes; too much emphasis on managing knowledge may create rigidities that are counterproductive in a changing world, may lead to the silencing of different perspectives or to unwanted accountability (Schultze & Stabell, 2004). Also, competitive advantage of organizations relies on the fact that what the organization knows is not replicable, and yet in order to reap the benefits of such or-ganizational knowledge it has to be shared and applied in practice.
The course ‘Knowledge in Organizations' provides an introduction to different fundamental assumptions about knowledge, about knowledge in organizations, and address the question whether it can, and if so, how it should be managed. To this end, four discourses associated with these different assumptions about knowledge and its manageability will be discussed, namely:
- neo-functionalist discourse: in which knowledge is regarded as a strategic asset of organiza-tions which needs to be carefully managed by creating a setting in which there is an optimal allocation of resources and conditions;
- constructivist discourse: in which knowledge is regarded as distributed cognition in which the challenge is to coordinate actions among multiple and potentially conflicting views of actors with only partial knowledge, who take mindful actions. Knowledge can thus not be managed as object separate from human action but is located in practices;
- critical discourse: is marked by seeing knowledge as power asset in an ongoing conflict be-tween those with and those without power. Knowledge is an object that can be owned, bought and sold. In the hands of the powerful, it is a tool of domination whereas in the hands of the underprivileged, it is a tool of emancipation;
- dialogical discourse: is interested in the role of knowledge in the exercise of power and con-trol. This discourse relates knowledge to power and focuses on the disciplinary practices that both shape and are shaped by knowledge. The key is to unravel how certain things become known, how they become self-evident concepts and how power is created through normali-zation.
Based on these four discourses on knowledge in organizations, different aspects of knowledge management will be discussed. We will highlight the different ways knowledge can be managed, knowledge processes that can be recognized in organizations, as well as social conditions (e.g., organization’s cultural aspects) and infrastructural conditions (e.g., the use of ICT when managing knowledge) that help or hinder the management of knowledge. Additionally, we would like students to develop a feel for how to recognize knowledge (management) related problems in organizations; to point out possible underlying reasons for these problems; and to come up with suggestions how to intervene in order to deal with these problems.