Actor-Network Theory and Autopoiesis: A New Perspective on Knowledge Management

Actor-Network Theory and Autopoiesis: A New Perspective on Knowledge Management

Lars Steiner (University of Gävle, Sweden)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-176-6.ch005
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A new knowledge management perspective and tool, ANT/AUTOPOIESIS, for analysis of knowledge management in knowledge-intensive organizations is presented. An information technology (IT) research and innovation co-operation between university actors and companies interested in the area of smart home IT applications is used to illustrate analysis using this perspective. Actor-network theory (ANT) and the social theory of autopoiesis are used in analyzing knowledge management, starting from the foundation of a research co-operation. ANT provides the character of relations between actors and actants, how power is translated by actors and the transformation of relations over time. The social theory of autopoiesis provides the tools to analyze organizational closure and reproduction of organizational identity. The perspective used allows a process analysis, and at the same time analysis of structural characteristics of knowledge management. Knowledge management depends on powerful actors, whose power changes over time. Here this power is entrepreneurial and based on relations and actors’ innovation knowledge.
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Introduction: A Definition Of Knowledge Management

The aim with this paper is to present a new perspective on knowledge management, a perspective that uses both actor network theory (ANT) and the social theory of autopoiesis (ANT/AUTOPOIESIS). Knowledge management is empirically presented as how a number of actors and actor companies collaboratively organized to increase specific knowledge and innovation capability. The co-operation, named KIT, aimed at research and innovations in home and buildings information technology (IT) products and services.

To know something is to interpret meaning and make sense of something from one’s own experiences, information and data (Callon, 1986b). This is the ANT perspective of knowledge management which in this sense resembles a cognitive perspective where knowledge exists within a human brain. Managing knowledge is from a cognitive perspective impossible. Knowledge from a cognitive perspective is independent of others and socially closed. To be interesting from an organizational point of view, knowledge should be analysed in the light of goals and meaning not only for an individual, but also for an organization or as in this paper a collaboration of organizations. Knowledge is shown in the speech and activities of human actors. Argyris and Schön (1978/1995) called this visibility of knowledge; knowledge-in-action. Decision making is the most important act by which knowledge becomes apparent in organizations, according to Luhmann (2002). Acts, though, are also dependent on expectations of the future, power and human will. Non human actors do not have knowledge, since they cannot by themselves create meaning. To make machines “act” according to a human actor’s wishes, knowledge might be inscribed into a machine, or a description of how to use a machine is prescribed for the user to read and follow. Also artifacts in buildings like doors, stairs, corridors, windows, etc, are shaped to fulfil certain functions decided by the designers. Prescriptions “give” non-humans ability to “act” on behalf of the humans that have written these. Machines and artifacts become agents for the will of human actors. Sveiby (2008) says that knowledge management is a poor term and that knowledge cannot be managed. Since knowledge is something inside a human brain, to claim that knowledge could be managed would mean to manipulate humans’ brains. In spite of this the concept knowledge management is widely used. Wilson (2002) after a thorough review of the concept concludes that knowledge management is used about activities concerning management of information and work practices.

Social autopoiesis theory, being a general systems theory uses living systems as metaphor for describing social phenomena. Living cells communicates with its environment to survive (Maturana and Varela, 1987). The human brain is in social knowledge autopoiesis used as a metaphor for what happens in and between organizations (Morgan, 1986). Metaphors are often used in organizational theory and are for example used in the concept of the learning organization (Senge, 1990). Generative learning (Senge, 1990) imply that the organization as a whole is able to learn from experiences that actually are inherited from individuals and groups of human actors in the organization.

Burgoyne et al (1994) and Alvesson and Willmott (1996) claimed that knowledge is socially constructed in an organizational setting. With this view of knowledge management, power differences, conflict, domination, subordination and manipulation are considered as well as aspects that have to do with handling complex organizing processes efficiently, innovation capability and competitiveness. Knowledge actually expresses itself in multiple forms: propositional, theoretical, practical, experiential, and presentational (Marshall and Reason, 1993).

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Chapter 1
Davydd J. Greenwood
This chapter questions the clarity of the concepts of “knowledge society” and “knowledge-intensive organization”. In particular, the author asserts... Sample PDF
Are Research Universities Knowledge-Intensive Learning Organizations?
Chapter 2
Juha Kettunen
The aims of knowledge management are to create knowledge and stimulate innovation. Knowledge management allows the knowledge of an organization to... Sample PDF
Construction of Knowledge-Intensive organizations in Higher Education
Chapter 3
Jeff Gold, Richard Thorpe
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is usually conceived as a planned and formulated process for individual members of professional... Sample PDF
Collective CPD: Professional Learning in a Law Firm
Chapter 4
Paul Trott, Andreas Hoecht
The United States and European economies have witnessed an enormous increase in the amount of specialized business services, which now provide... Sample PDF
Innovation Risks of Outsourcing within Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS)
Chapter 5
Lars Steiner
A new knowledge management perspective and tool, ANT/AUTOPOIESIS, for analysis of knowledge management in knowledge-intensive organizations is... Sample PDF
Actor-Network Theory and Autopoiesis: A New Perspective on Knowledge Management
Chapter 6
Jo A. Tyler, David M. Boje
This chapter fits the theme, the interplay between creativity and control in organizations. Story is often claimed to be a way to elicit tacit... Sample PDF
Sorting the Relationship of Tacit Knowledge to Story and Narrative Knowing
Chapter 7
Louise Grisoni
The central discussion in this chapter is that poetry can be used to provide a bridge between tangible, rational and explicit knowledge and tacit or... Sample PDF
Exploring Organizational Learning and Knowledge Exchange through Poetry
Chapter 8
Ester Barinaga
“How do we define our project goal?” “How are we going to coordinate our independent national studies?” “Who is responsible for what?” “How are... Sample PDF
Vagueness: The Role of Language in the Organizing Process of Knowledge Intensive Work
Chapter 9
Stephen Sheard
In this chapter the author offers an argument towards the resurgence of a proto-alphabetic imagination in electronic and mobile communications. It... Sample PDF
Tyranny of the Eye? The Resurgence of the Proto-Alphabetic Sensibility in Contemporary Electronic Modes of Media (PC/Mobile Telephony); and its Significance for the Status of Knowledge
Chapter 10
Krzysztof Klincewicz
The chapter discusses the role of IT Research & Analysis firms in the diffusion of knowledge management. The research is based on content analysis... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management and IT Research and Analysis Firms: Agenda-Setters, Oracles and Judges
Chapter 11
Fatima Guadamillas-Gomez, Mario J. Donate-Manzanares
This chapter analyses the implementation of knowledge management strategies (KMS) in technologyintensive firms. Firstly, a review of KMS in the... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management Strategies Implementation in Innovation Intensive Firms
Chapter 12
Arla Juntunen
This chapter focuses on the development of the Knowledge Management (KM) platform, and, more generally, the knowledge- and resource based view (RBV)... Sample PDF
Developing a Corporate Knowledge Management Platform in a Multibusiness Company
Chapter 13
Jonathan D. Owens
Success in new product development (NPD) can be considered a general aim for any company wishing to survive in the 21st Century. It has been found... Sample PDF
Modeling the New Product Development Process: The Value of a Product Development Process Model Approach as a Means for Business Survival in the 21st Century
Chapter 14
Anders Örtenblad
The ambition of this chapter is to pay some attention to more obvious, as well as more subtle, methods for organizations to become independent of... Sample PDF
Achieving Organizational Independence of Employees' Knowledge Using Knowledge Management, Organizational Learning, and the Learning Organization
Chapter 15
Angelo Ditillo
Knowledge-intensive firms are composed of various communities, each characterized by specialized knowledge. These communities operate as critical... Sample PDF
Balancing Stability and Innovation in Knowledge-Intensive Firms: The Role of Management Control Mechanisms
Chapter 16
Aino Kianto, Jianzhong Hong
Nowadays knowledge and competencies are the key productive factors, and the organizational capability for continuous learning, development and... Sample PDF
The Knowledge-Based Approach to Organizational Measurement: Exploring the Future of Organizational Assessment
Chapter 17
Vidar Hepsø
In knowledge management literature, common information spaces (CIS) are believed to be instrumental in the development and sharing of knowledge.... Sample PDF
Common Information Spaces in Knowledge-Intensive Work: Representation and Negotiation of Meaning in Computer-Supported Collaboration Rooms
Chapter 18
Agnieszka Postula
This chapter presents and discusses two factors – creativity and control – which correspond to every organizational reality. IT specialists’... Sample PDF
Creativitiy and Control in IT Professionals' Communities
Chapter 19
Patrocinio Zaragoza-Saez, Enrique Claver-Cortes, Diego Quer-Ramon
Knowledge is one of the basic production factors owned by enterprises, and knowledge management is one of the main dynamic capabilities on which... Sample PDF
A Qualitative Study of Knowledge Management: The Multinational Firm Point of View
Chapter 20
Cliff Bowan, Pauline Gleadle
The chapter addresses a central dilemma from the viewpoint of dynamic capabilities and the resource based view of the firm: how to manage creativity... Sample PDF
Culture as a Dynamic Capability: The Case of 3M in the United Kingdom
Chapter 21
Maria E. Burke
The purpose of this chapter is to consider an original way of improving Knowledge Management relationships. This is done within the context of an... Sample PDF
Cultural Issues, Organizations and Information Fulfillment: An Exploration Towards Improved Knowledge Management Relationships
Chapter 22
Darius Mehri
The author worked in the research and design department at a large Toyota company in the late 1990s and experienced an innovative process where... Sample PDF
Engineering Design at a Toyota Company: Knowledge Management and the Innovative Process
Chapter 23
Federica Ricceri, James Guthrie
The shift towards a knowledge based economy is at the core of the debate of contemporary management and accounting literature and organisations are... Sample PDF
Critical Analysis of International Guidelines for the Management of Knowledge Resources
Chapter 24
Christiane Prange
Internationalization has accelerated the speed of knowledge generation and innovation. Thus, companies increasingly need to pool and create new... Sample PDF
Strategic Alliance Capability: Bridging the Individual Back into Inter-Organizational Collaboration
Chapter 25
Meryem Sevinc, Lawrence Locker, John D. Murray
In the contemporary context of knowledge discovery, the amount of information and the process itself has increased in complexity. Relevant to the... Sample PDF
Automation vs. Human Intervention: Is There any Room Left for the Analyst in the Data Mining Process?
Chapter 26
Joanna Shih
The hi-tech firms that predominate in Silicon Valley contain a large proportion of knowledge workers—employees with high levels of education and... Sample PDF
Temporality and Knowledge Work
Chapter 27
Alice MacGilivray
Knowledge management is often associated with the need for change and related shifts in ontologies, ways of knowing and ways of working. Combine the... Sample PDF
Knowledge Intensive Work in a Network of Counter-Terrorism Communities
Chapter 28
Tatiana Andreeva
Contemporary literature usually views knowledge creation and knowledge sharing as either independent or positively related processes. However, based... Sample PDF
Tensions between Knowledge Creation and Knowledge Sharing: Individual Preferences of Employees in Knowledge-Intensive Organizations
Chapter 29
Steffen Boehm, Chris Land
Knowledge is implicitly assumed to form an increasingly important, or even the dominant source of values for today’s knowledge based organizations.... Sample PDF
The 'Value' of Knowledge: Reappraising Labour in the Post-Industrial Economy
Chapter 30
Alexander Styhre
This chapter discusses the use of media in knowledge-intensive organizations. Media is defined here as the integration of technologies, practices... Sample PDF
New Media and Knowledge Work
Chapter 31
Ben Tran
This chapter examines knowledge and innovation as invaluable factors affecting the longevity of large organizations. It presents the history and... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management: The Construction of Knowledge in Organizations
Chapter 32
Premilla D’Cruz, Ernesto Noronha
Scholars researching the area of the sociology of professions had earlier predicted that as occupations seek to improve their public image... Sample PDF
Redefining Professional: The Case of India's Call Center Agents
Chapter 33
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Knowledge management and knowledge-intensive work are two of today’s hot buzzwords, though both already have a history of managerial usage. While... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management: Fad or Enduring Organizational Concept?
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