Journal of Systemic Knowledge Management, March, 1998

Knowledge Work or Working Knowledge?

Ambiguity and Confusion in the Analysis of the "Knowledge Age"

David Collins, University of Sunderland


Analyses, critically, the interest in "knowledge work" and the "knowledge age". Arguing that definitions of "knowledge work" and predictions regarding the future trajectories of knowledge organizations are characterized by confusion and ambiguity, calls for a quite different form of analysis. Argues that energy should be directed away from the study of "knowledge work" - the privilege of a minority élite - and redirected to acknowledge the extent of working knowledge across the workforce as a whole.


Over the last few years considerable attention has been shown in the analysis of "knowledge work" and in the analysis of knowledge intensive forms of organization (Alvesson, 1993; Coulson-Thomas, 1991; Drucker, 1991; Nomikos, 1989). By far the majority of those who use the term seem to agree, broadly, that there is a form of work which we might meaningfully categorize as "knowledge work". In addition they also tend to argue that as societies move into the "knowledge age", "knowledge work" will require new forms of management and, implicitly, new strategies for human resource management (HRM). In this paper I wish to look more closely at this notion of knowledge work. When analysing knowledge work, so-called, one gets an eerie feeling of déjà vu; a sense that all the arguments have been rehearsed before and that furthermore, these new rehearsals add little to the polish of the performance. In particular I am concerned that the current focus on knowledge work represents, at an implicit level, a re-rehearsal of previous discussions of "post-industrialism" (Kumar, 1981) which like previous performances are confusing, ambiguous and really not at all well directed.

The impetus to write this paper stems from my reading of Despres' and Hiltrop's "Human resource management in the knowledge age: current practice and perspectives on the future" (Despres and Hiltrop, 1995). This paper is written, in part, as a response to their work and to the paradigm which their work represents, and so the paper is structured as follows. The paper begins by analysing the nature of knowledge work within the framework of the larger debates on post-industrial society, and will attempt to show the problems and the naïvety of much of the post-industrial literature. From here the paper will consider knowledge work as it is envisaged in the work of Despres and Hiltrop. From this I hope to show how they are re-rehearsing old stories. In addition I will attempt to demonstrate that the confusion and ambiguity which surrounds the concept of knowledge work within their paper can be found within the general debate on post-industrial society and is indeed a product of the terms of reference of this debate. Following this, the paper will analyse a wider range of contributions on knowledge work in an attempt to show that the current run of the debate has done little to advance analysis since it is still riddled with basic conceptual muddles and confusion. Finally the paper will suggest that this debate on the future of work organizations, and on the future of management and management control, should be refocused. Instead of attempting to define and analyse knowledge work which, in spite of the muddle and confusion which surrounds it, tends to emerge as the privilege of a minority élite, the paper will conclude by arguing that the debate should be refocused to analyse working knowledge across the population.

The post-industrial age?

The work of Daniel Bell (1980; 1987) probably represents the main intellectual springboard for the current discussions of knowledge work and the knowledge age. Kumar (1981) acknowledges that a wide variety of commentators and analysts have discussed a variety of visions for a post-industrial age. However, he argues that Bell's work, since it is probably the most sociological in orientation (in that it begins from a discussion of the nature of industrial society), represents the prime source of reference for the analysis of the post-industrial literature.

Bell's argument is that society is entering a new phase of evolution which will move it from an industrial form to a post-industrial form. This move from industrial to post-industrial society represents a basic change in economic activity; the move from a goods producing economy to a service economy; and from blue collar to white-collar employment. In addition Bell argues that the post-industrial age is marked by an increasing predominance of professional, scientific and technician groups. Indeed, Bell sees a combination of economic and technical advance as leading to a change in class structure, since according to Bell, the growing information handling requirements of business, the development of information products and the primacy of scientific research will call forth a new and powerful class of (knowledge) workers. In this way Bell argues that post-industrial society will be based not on the ownership of private property but on the basis of professional skill.

Kumar however is highly sceptical of these predictions, and of the intellectual framework which underpins them. He offers a powerful critique which, for economy of presentation, may be grouped under four headings. These relate to questions on:

  1. the extent to which the growth of the tertiary (service) sector implies that society is post-industrial;
  2. the nature of service sector employment;
  3. the validity of the term "professional";
  4. the extent to which post-industrial society hinges on codification and the use of scientific knowledge by scientists within large scale employment concerns.

With reference to the first point, Bell argues that post-industrial society represents a decisive break from industrial forms. He argues that we may glean the extent of this change from the decline in manufacturing employment and the switch to service sector employment. However Kumar notes that, if anything, the service sector grows at the expense of the agricultural sector and that, in this way, the growth of the service sector represents, if anything, post-agrarian society. Kumar does acknowledge that the figures are perhaps more supportive of post-industrialism for the UK. Yet he notes that in having a large manufacturing sector the UK was in fact atypical. Kumar argues, therefore, that one of the key tenets of post-industrial thinking - that the growth of the service sector represents a decisive shift from manufacturing - is unfounded.

On our second point, Kumar notes the need to question some of the assumptions which post-industrial thinkers tend to build into their models of service sector work. In short, post-industrial thinkers tend to imply that the move towards service sector employment brings with it an improvement in the terms and conditions of employment for those who transfer into this line of work. Kumar notes, however, that the service sector is really a residual category of employment, and a rather large and diverse one at that. This rather rosy view of service sector employment therefore must be, at best, an exaggeration. This is supported in the work of Wood (1992) who, in his analysis of the hotel and catering industry, demonstrates that accounts of service work often fail to acknowledge the size of the service sector and the diverse practices found within it. Furthermore, Wood argues that accounts of service sector work tend to focus on the high skills end of the market, and so fail to understand the extent of managerial control and the relative poverty endured by many of those who work in "services".

Kumar's third critique of post-industrial thinking relates to the discussion of professionalization which is implicit in the treatment of the service sector and in the discussion of the growing predominance of scientific knowledge. Bell implies that post-industrial society is marked by a growth in the professional workforce who form a new élite class. For Kumar, however, this growth is a result of "a sociological sleight of hand" (Kumar, 1981, p. 215) which fails to acknowledge the extent to which professional employment is socially constructed and contested. Kumar notes, for example, that Bell's new professional groups are accorded few of the rights and benefits of the longer established professional groups, and he notes too, that in contrast to Bell's vision of élitism, contentment and motivation, these new professionals are increasingly disaffected and militant.

Kumar's final point invites us to take issue with the basic contention that post-industrial society is built on science and the codification of theoretical knowledge. He notes, as does Bannock (1973), that much scientific innovation is undertaken by amateurs and dabblers. Indeed Sterling (1992) notes that in the field of computing and hacking, "phreakers" are so far ahead of their corporate counterparts, that large corporations and indeed the CIA are all forced to subscribe to the underground publications which they produce. Similarly and perhaps more telling, Kumar also argues that calculation and rationalism are as much a feature of the industrial age as of any post-industrial vision. This, of course, can also be found in the work of Braverman (1974).

Based on this critique, which attacks post-industrialism both conceptually and empirically, Kumar comes to the conclusion that post-industrial forms of analysis are unconvincing, naive and "intellectually conservative" (Kumar, 1981, p. 235) One might have thought (or even hoped) that this form of debate would, therefore, have been laid to rest some time ago. Yet it appears that it has not, since, as we shall see below in our discussion of the work of Despres and Hiltrop, the debates and problems of post-industrial thinking are with us once more.

The knowledge worker?

Despres' and Hiltrop's paper revolves around a consideration of the problems of managing, motivating and rewarding knowledge workers. As such their paper is couched as a call to action for HRM professionals. In broad terms their thesis reflects the concerns of Bell, since they argue that societies and work organizations stand on the brink of a new technological age which will lead to disruptions in work patterns, work rhythms and ultimately to changes in class structure. Although they never quite tell us when this age will begin, or indeed if it has already begun, Despres and Hiltrop are confident enough in their analysis to generate a range of imperatives which, they argue, HRM profession-als should implement so that they might manage and, importantly, motivate knowledge workers.

Mirroring the definitional and conceptual problems which dogged the post-industrial literature, Despres and Hiltrop appear to have some difficulty in deciding on the nature of this resource. Ultimately they settle for a definition by proxy. Using the UNESCO definition of research and development activity, they tell us that this is a useful proxy definition for knowledge work. Thus quoting a UNESCO publication (UNESCO, 1993) they define knowledge work as:

any creative systematic activity undertaken in order to increase the stock of knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this knowledge to devise new applications. It includes fundamental research … applied research … and experimental development work leading to new devices, products of processes (Despres and Hiltrop, 1995, p. 14).

Yet we all know, and as an analysis of the post-industrial literature confirms, anything which can only be defined by proxy will tend to be very slippery conceptually and weak empirically. Indeed the concept of knowledge work (like service work, or professional work) is so slippery that the authors apparently feel the need to generate two additional definitions to supplement the UNESCO definition of research and development which they have decided to adopt as their working definition. Thus, in a rather tautological fashion, they tell us that:

It is possible…to define knowledge work as systematic activity that traffics in data, manipulates information and develops knowledge. The work may be theoretical and directed at no immediate practical purpose, or pragmatic and aimed at devising new applications, devices, products or processes (Despres and Hiltrop, 1995, p. 12).

Yet just a little later they offer an analysis of work which, in attempting to wrestle with the conceptual ambiguities of knowledge work, attempts to analyse the orientations of their knowledge workers. And so this third attempt at definition moves further from a concentration on the invention and refinement of devices to focus on the orchestration of symbols and the importance of communication in knowledge work. They tell us that:

Knowledge workers manipulate and orchestrate symbols and concepts, identify more strongly with their peers and professions than their organizations, have more rapid skill obsolescence and are more critical to the long-term success of the organization (Despres and Hiltrop, 1995, p. 13).

So just who are these knowledge workers? Who belongs in this special category? Are they doctors, as in the UNESCO definition? Are they marketing professionals? Are they lawyers? Are they perhaps military strategists, as in the second definition? Or are knowledge workers composed of groups of workers traditionally regarded as the professions as in the third definition? Perhaps surprisingly it appears that they are none of these groups. We are told that:

new types of work are now being performed by new types of worker (Despres and Hiltrop, 1995 p. 12).

And again just a little later this is confirmed when we are told that:

the nature of knowledge-based work is fundamentally different from that known previously (Despres and Hiltrop, 1995, p. 12).

Thus Despres' and Hiltrop's knowledge worker would appear to be both everyone, yet no one. The grouping seems to include all those who invent or refine devices; who engage in scientific endeavour; who manipulate data and symbols, yet it is a form of work like no currently existing forms of work!

However, it is important that we do not attack or unduly victimize Despres and Hiltrop over their treatment of knowledge work, since they are by no means alone in suffering from these problems. We have seen for example that in encountering these definitional and conceptual problems they are rubbing shoulders with Bell and contemporaries of Bell such as Touraine (1974) and Dahrendorf (1959). In the section that follows, therefore, we will examine a range of contemporary contributions to the knowledge work debate and we will also indulge in a little speculation as to the longevity of this, frankly, rather limited line of analysis.

Varieties of knowledge work

We might speculate that when academics supportive of notions of knowledge work turn their attention to knowledge workers their judgement becomes clouded. Perry (1993) and Ackroyd (1993) note that theorizing is both a social and a cognitive activity. Thus in modelling knowledge work we might indulge the speculation that management academics and educators are studying a group of people with whom they apparently have much in common. Both possess skills which, having been acquired over a prolonged period, are valued. Additionally these skills are looked on as allowing both groups considerable discretion in the tasks they choose, and how these tasks are managed to completion. This apparent similarity between subject and investigator, may go some way to explaining the diversity and the fuzziness of definitions of knowledge work, since we could argue that the majority of knowledge workers that appear in discussions reflect the self-image academics would like to see in the mirror (and would like others to share), and as such represent rather personal and self-referential viewpoints. The problem is, of course, that most often these personal and narrow views fail to capture the diverse management practices associated with knowledge work. Even within the academic sphere, for example, Perry (1993) notes the distinctive approaches to management adopted by academic departments in the UK and the USA. Perry tells us that in the UK academic research in social science has followed an artisan-type approach where relatively independent craft workers have pursued their own projects largely free from interference. However in the USA Perry tells us that academics, or if you like, knowledge workers, operate in a more formal, more hierarchical and a rather more Taylorized set-up and, therefore, are more directly under the gaze and control of management.

It seems clear, then, that it would be dangerous to generalize about, or attempt to universalize, the management of a diverse group of workers since the management policies and practices under which these workers labour will tend to be the outcome of, often ad hoc, local accommodations, negotiations and historical traditions which would tend to confuse and befuddle any exercise in rationalization or prediction. Indeed when we look beyond the work of Despres and Hiltrop to the contributions of their contemporaries in this debate, the conceptual and empirical problems multiply. Nomikos, for example, adopts a definition of knowledge work which seems to conflict directly with the analysis of Despres and Hiltrop. While Despres and Hiltrop argue that knowledge work is like no hitherto existing form of work, for Nomikos knowledge workers are rather familiar and are "a group that includes scientists, engineers, professors, attorneys, physicians and accountants" (Nomikos, 1989, p. 165).

Drucker, in contrast offers a far wider definition. In fact it is so wide that he seems to collapse knowledge work into the service sector. He tells us that:

Knowledge and service workers range from research scientists and cardiac surgeons through draftswomen and store managers to 16 year olds who flip hamburgers in fast food restaurants on Saturday afternoons. Their ranks also include people whose work makes them "machine operators": dishwashers, janitors, data entry operators (Drucker, 1991 p. 71).

In fairness Drucker does note some differences between knowledge and service workers. These differences, we are told, reflect "diversity in knowledge, skill, responsibility, social status and pay" (p. 71). However, as in our discussion of the management of academic departments, we have to wonder whether these differences are to be looked on as differences in degree, or in kind, since we are never told where to draw a boundary around the knowledge work group. Clearly the burger flipper is not a knowledge worker in Drucker's eyes but what of the draftswoman or store manager? We should note too, that if the indices of knowledge work are indeed responsibility and social status, then there is the possibility that we are not gauging the knowledge worker or anything intrinsic about the task they perform. Instead we may well be drawing attention to differences in management style between organizations, or differences in localized labour markets which affect the responsibilities, status and rewards accorded.

Kelley takes a slightly different tack which, in attempting to pick up on some of these less tangible aspects, has similarities to at least one of the definitions offered by Despres and Hiltrop. He tells us:

One change in the workforce that necessitates a new approach to management style is the emergence of gold collar, or knowledge workers. These workers are hired for their problem solving abilities, creativity, talent and intelligence (Kelley, 1990, p. 109).

Unlike the work of Nomikos, Kelley's approach does not seem so strongly wedded to formal qualifications since he notes the necessity of key personal attributes which are required, such as creativity. However creativity is a term reserved for socially sanctioned activity and like the term knowledge work, disguises a range of factors which intervene in the judgement of such issues. Thus waiting tables, mixing cocktails, hewing wood and cutting metals can all be regarded as highly creative forms of endeavour. Equally, acts of hacking, sabotage and other forms of crime made possible by information technology might also be regarded as creative and imaginative, but I doubt that many of these would count as knowledge work in Kelley's judgement.

However, just as in the post-industrial debates, the diversity of the category of knowledge work as revealed in these definitions does not seem to trouble the various commentators. Perhaps these authors are blinded by their own reflection, or perhaps the need to address the problems of managing knowledge workers is so pressing that action is required over reflection. No matter the reason, it is clear that in spite of the diverse definitions offered, the common conviction exists that this élite must receive concessions at work and must be managed in new and enlightened ways. No matter what he or she might look like, all seem agreed that knowledge workers are destined to be the new core of a happy, productive and committed workforce.

Yet these pronouncements must be treated with caution. Surely the competition between definitions, disguised within the espoused policies for knowledge work, makes such notions poor templates for action (and doubtful concepts in education). In fact given the previous rehearsals of these issues and given the limited analysis and reflection on the concept of knowledge, which is at the heart of the debate, it should be of no surprise that the limited empirical work built on this foundation demonstrates, only, that it is quite easy to mould the structural "evidence" to fit your preferred policy outcome. As an illustration of this we could examine Kanter's end of bureaucracy thesis (Kanter, 1989) since this has clear affinities to the concept of knowledge work.

Kanter tells us that bureaucracy and large scale corporations, as we understand them, are things of the past. They are, she tells us, unresponsive and anti-dynamic. However the empirical evidence she offers to back up her claims as to the demise of bureaucracy, is weak. In fact her death of bureaucracy thesis turns out to be based largely on a decline in the number of white collar employees (which is in itself a fairly arbitrary categorization), rather than any real examination of the supposed bureaucratic nature of corporations.

The problem common to analyses of post-industrialism and the knowledge age, therefore, is that the categorization and future forecasts concerning work are based on vague and dubious notions as regards the nature of work, the processes of work and the processes of management in general.

In the section that follows, while acknowledging the existence of some important truths within the knowledge work literature, I will attempt to demonstrate that the focus on knowledge work is a distraction which decontextualizes the experience of work and removes questions of control from the analysis. In addition I will attempt to show that what is basically an upskilling prognosis for knowledge work fails to comprehend what really happens to work, and to workers, when management takes an active interest in "knowledge".

From knowledge work to working knowledge

Leaving aside the critique offered by Kumar, probably the simplest way to dash the variously competitive notions of knowledge work as a new and élite form of activity, would be to make the general observation that knowledge workers cannot be a new, specialist or minority group. No matter what we do we are all, in some form or other, knowledge workers. To accomplish even the simplest of tasks requires some kind of working knowledge, acquired both formally and informally from supervisors, friends and co-workers. For example, Bendix in his historical study of management and management attitudes reminds us of the importance of working knowledge and of the potency of "working to rule". He notes:

Beyond what commands can effect and supervision can control, beyond what incentives can induce and penalties prevent, there exists an exercise of discretion important in relatively menial jobs, which managers of economic enterprises seek to enlist for the achievement of managerial ends (Bendix, 1956, p. 256).

Kusterer also notes that even under Taylorist principles of work organization, "unskilled workers must acquire a substantial body of knowledge to survive and succeed on their jobs - despite mechanization and automation, despite bureaucratization and the ever narrower division of labour." (Kusterer, 1978, preface). However while this offers a powerful rebuttal to the notion of knowledge work it does not explain why such distractions should be so persistent, nor does it really offer insight into what actually tends to happen when management begins to take a real interest in the activities and skills of subordinates.

Perhaps the easiest way to rationalize the interest in knowledge work would be to acknowledge that the world of work has changed quite markedly. Equally, based on the earlier argument that theorizing is both a cognitive and a social activity we might, as Keat and Abercrombie (1991) and Huczynski (1993) do, locate the rather optimistic and managerialist agenda of the "knowledge worker" debate within a discussion of shifting economic and political agendas in the UK and the USA during the 1980s. In addition we might also speculate on the personal mission of these management academics, as say, Baritz (1965) might have had he observed the resurgence of a confident managerialist discourse in the 1980s and 1990s. However this is a little outwith the scope of this particular paper, and so I will confine my attention to the first line of analysis offered above, and offer a brief sketch of the changing experience of (physical) work.

Zuboff (1989) in her study of the smart machine notes how, in earlier periods, the experience of work for the majority of the population revolved around extremes of physical effort. Work was enacted on the body, and the body was, quite literally, expended in the process of work. Orwell (1978) notes for example the physical effort which coal miners had to endure simply to reach their place of work at the coal face. Similarly Zuboff makes us, rather painfully, aware of the extreme physical toil associated, even with apparently gentle pursuits such as candy making. She offers a quotation which observes:

The whole process…requires great skill in the manipulation and it also requires the most severe and continuous muscular labour. We know indeed of no other kind of labour that requires more. Not a muscle or joint of the whole body remains inactive. It has quite a marvellous effect in taking down superfluous fat. It is well known that a stout man taken perhaps from lozenge making, and put to work on the hot pan, becomes in six weeks converted into a living skeleton (Zuboff, 1989, p. 38).

Discussing the working conditions of "puddlers", a group of skilled furnace men, she notes:

Few puddlers, it was said, lived beyond the age of 50 (Zuboff, 1989, p. 39).

Zuboff argues that as mechanization and automation have advanced, so work has become less and less an activity enacted on the body and, particularly in an era marked by the development of information technology, has for many workers, become more remote and distant from the five senses which we use routinely to orientate ourselves. Thus, in her analysis of the automation of a paper mill, Zuboff communicates clearly the sense of loss and disorientation experienced by operatives, who, previously accustomed to monitoring the production of paper by handling, squeezing and physically testing its "feel", became isolated from the product by a new computer controlled system, and were forced to attempt to control the process using the abstract and disembodied symbols which the new IT system made vailable to them.

At one level, then, we can rationalize the interest in knowledge and in the manipulation of data and symbols, as reflecting a clear understanding that, in certain ways, the experience of work has changed quite profoundly. However, in other very important ways, we should also acknowledge that work has remained little changed. In places, Zuboff demonstrates this quite well. For example, in the analysis of the paper mill workers, she communicates the continued and indeed growing sense of alienation and disaffection among these workers. Similarly in her analysis of clerical work, uboff demonstrates the enlarged potential for remote management supervision which can be enacted on white-collar factory workers (Simon, 1976). Indeed making use of the work of Bentham and Foucault she argues that the information age carries with it, not liberation, but the threat that management, and perhaps the state, will use technology to invade more and more of the space previously claimed by workers and citizens for unsupervised, discretionary activity.

This continued and enlarging management interest in the control of work offers, I believe, another powerful reason to abandon the notion of knowledge work in favour of the concept of working knowledge, since in comparison to notions of knowledge work, the concept of working knowledge serves to remind us of the basic facts of paid employment (Terkel, 1985) and pinpoints also, significant continuities in the experience of the labour process which management writers would prefer to dismiss as the prehistory of the industrial age (Thompson and McHugh, 1990).

Thus instead of rushing to embrace the collegiate, empowering and harmonious visions of the future laid out before us, we should instead, examine the lessons of history. Even if knowledge (however construed) is becoming more important in the workplace, all the lessons of history tell us that when management becomes interested in (appropriating) the knowledge which workers have with regard to work skills and processes, the conditions under which we work tend to deteriorate. Fucini and Fucini (1990) demonstrate this for the automobile industry as does Graham (1994) and Parker and Slaughter (1988). Similarly Sewell and Wilkinson (1992) demonstrate the importance of supervision and surveillance in the electronics industry. In their case study organization, they show that management had, in effect, reintroduced Owen's "silent monitor". Likewise, as we noted earlier, Zuboff demonstrates the extent of supervision and control placed on both clerical and professional groups. Zuboff demonstrates this by reproducing some of the sketches which she asked her respondents to draw for her. Typically these sketches are notable for the sense of disaffection conveyed; dissatisfaction with the nature of the work; and with the nature and extent of supervision.

If we move from the office back to the plant and compare a contemporary discussion of the system of work in a car factory, namely the Mazda factory studied by the Fucinis, with what for a variety of reasons, might be regarded as a classic contribution to industrial sociology, namely Beynon's Working for Ford (1977), one cannot help but be struck by the increased pace of work and the deterioration in work experience which the knowledge appropriating policies of empowerment, JIT and kaizen seem to bring with them. Thus in Beynon's Working for Ford, work groups are regularly reported as modifying their pace in order to allow them to vary the rhythm of work. Beynon, for example, notes how groups of workers would decide among themselves to increase their pace for a short period so that they could "work up the line" and enjoy an unscheduled cigarette break. However, in the Mazda plant reported by the Fucinis such endeavour would not be rewarded by a cigarette break. Instead the ability to work up the line would be called "kaizen-ing" and would tend to result in a generalized increase in the pace of work. However it is worth noting that it is doubtful whether anyone could find the reserves of strength to work up the line in the Mazda plant. In comparison to previous (pre-knowledge work?) times when workers might have expected to work 43 seconds per minute, the empowered knowledge élite of the Mazda plant can expect only 3 seconds respite per minute.

It seems, then that in spite of the rhetoric of knowledge work, employees in the auto industry, electronics industry, clerical work and professions are being driven to work smarter, harder and for longer. And so if we stand on the threshold of a new age of work, this should be regarded as some cause for concern.


In this paper I have argued that the concepts of knowledge work and the knowledge age are a brake on academic analysis. While some of the ideas and arguments associated with knowledge work have a plausible ring to them, the potency of these arguments tend to become very much weakened when we examine the ambiguity and confusion which surrounds these terms. Likewise the arguments tend to become very much weakened when we place knowledge work in the context of where that work will be performed and look critically at the organizations which play host to the ideal of knowledge workers.

Yet we can, if we choose to make the effort, develop and use concepts for quite different ends. Why not, instead of bandying around buzzwords such as knowledge work, begin from the understanding that all workers are knowledge workers and that all have skills and working knowledge, rather than claim it as the possession of a minority group. If we are to regard workers as key resources, why begin from an initial assumption which implies that many have only the most limited resources at their disposal? How much better it would be if, instead of levering buzzwords into currently popular models and ways of thinking about management and organizations, we attempted to develop and apply concepts which could engender different ways of thinking about problems and innovations within organizations.

In this way we could turn the debate on its head. In the case of working knowledge we could begin from an analytical standpoint which would argue/remember that all have knowledge, but that in seeking to appropriate this knowledge, the rhetoric which management commentators apply, and which they encourage others to apply, serves to deny the existence and value of this knowledge in all but a few. From this understanding a range of different projects and research agendas could be spawned - not least of which might be a critical analysis of the nature of management teaching.


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