Knowledge Management and the Politics of Knowledge: Illustrations from complex products and systems

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While there is an increasing recognition of the social character of knowledge in segments of the literature on knowledge management, this paper argues that there has been a limited engagement with issues surrounding the politics of knowledge. There is now a well-established critique of technically-led knowledge management practices in which knowledge is treated in passive, objectivised, and static terms. A key element of this critique concerns the limits of codification strategies directed at making tacit knowledge explicit. This is founded upon an interpretative conceptualisation of inter-subjective understanding as always provisional, incomplete, and embedded in contexts of social action. While sympathetic to this position, it is argued that there is more to considering knowledge practices than the problem of understanding. Shared understanding, where participants to an interaction achieve a satisfactory interpretation of their respective positions, in no way implies mutual agreement about the validity of these positions. Drawing on insights from Habermas about models of social action and knowledge-guiding interests, we offer a series of concepts encouraging sensitivity to the relationship between knowledge, power, and interests. Aspects of the argument are then illustrated with case examples drawn from research into organisational knowledge in companies producing and using complex products and systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-112
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Information Systems
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001


  • Knowledge management
  • Complex Product Systens (CoPS)


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