This chapter discusses the use of media in knowledge-intensive organizations. Media is defined here as the integration of technologies, practices, and institutions serving to record, inscribe and circulate speech, writing, and images. The presence of media in organized activities remains relatively unexplored, even though various media “enframe” the life-world of the organization. New media do not only constitute assemblages of integrated technologies and tools (e.g. the telephone, the computer, pens and pencils) which are used en route in day-to-day work, they also gradually break down the line of demarcation between inside and outside, between embodied and technological matter.
The concept of knowledge has from the outset been of central interest within philosophy and social theory. Plato addressed the nature of knowledge in some of his dialogues (e.g. Theaetetus, Protagoras, and Meno) but failed to establish a clear and unambiguous line of demarcation between knowledge and non-knowledge. In contemporary times, the sociologist Karl Mannheim (1936) instituted what the called “sociology of knowledge” in the field of academic sociology, a tradition that Robert Merton (1957) then continued. In the 1960s, Fritz Machlup published a seminal work in which he conceived of knowledge as a major production factor in American industry and society. In organization theory, knowledge has always been an “absent present”, that which is always present yet rarely articulated, in the analysis of organizational practice. In the mid-1990s, arguably with the publication of a special issue of the Strategic Management Journal edited by Robert Grant and J.-C. Spender (1995), the idea of a specific and privileged theoretical perspective on organizations known as “knowledge management” (or “the knowledge-based view of the firm” (Foss, 1996), drawing on the debate on the “resource-based view of the firm” in strategic management quarters, e.g., Barney, 1991) was proposed. However, a few significant contributions to the field were published prior to 1995, perhaps the most notable of which being Nonaka’s (1994) discussion about the conversion of forms of knowledge. Since 1995, the knowledge management perspective has become established as a legitimate component of mainstream organization theory and management studies. Journals, conferences, and professional associations are dedicated to the topic and no less that two handbooks have been published, aimed at providing state-of-the-art overviews of the field (Dierkes, Berthon, Child and Nonaka, 2001; Easterby-Smith and Lyles, 2003). Today, knowledge management is a progressive and heterogeneous field of research hosting a great variety of theoretical, methodological, and practical orientations (for an overview, see Tsoukas and Vladimirou, 2001; Newell, Robertson, Scarborough and Swan, 2002; Styhre, 2003).