Perspectives on knowledge work

Toma Pustelnikovaite, Shiona Chillas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


The terms ‘knowledge work’ and ‘knowledge workers’ fi rst emerged as central concepts in the discourse around changing socio-economic conditions in the 1970s and then again in 1990s. In the 1970s, Daniel Bell (1999) forecasted that knowledge workers would be at the forefront of the emerging post-industrial society. He postulated the growth of the service sector, an increased supply of workers with specialist education, which reconfi gured the social order from one based on empirical knowledge (such as that of artisans) to one based on theoretical knowledge, acquired through higher education (Blackler et al. 1993:853). The accompanying change in the mode of production from manual to mental labour would lead, it was thought, to more professional and technical jobs, and improve working conditions. In the 1990s, Drucker (1993) elaborated on Bell’s idea that knowledge workers are the primary resource of a post-capitalist society by adding that a shift from generalised to specialised knowledge also requires a management revolution. He suggested that fi nding ways to organise knowledge and make it productive is a key societal challenge. The same decade also saw the emergence of literatures on the knowledgecreating company (Nonaka 1991), communities of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991; Brown & Duguid 1998) and organisational knowledge (Tsoukas & Vladimirou 2001), which all share the idea of an organisation as a living organism in which knowledge is both personal and collective, embodied in individuals and embedded in work practices. The emphasis these literatures put on the tacit and social nature of knowledge made a case that every employee can be said to “know more than we can tell” (Polanyi 2013:4). As a result, from the 1990s the idea that knowledge was inherent in all types of work led scholars to claim that all workers are considered knowledge workers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKnowledge and practice in business and organisations
EditorsKevin Orr, Sandra Nutley, Shona Russell, Rod Bain, Bonnie Hacking, Clare Moran
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781315674025
ISBN (Print)9781138617254, 9781138940857
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRoutledge Advances in Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management


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