Vagueness: The Role of Language in the Organizing Process of Knowledge Intensive Work

Vagueness: The Role of Language in the Organizing Process of Knowledge Intensive Work

Ester Barinaga (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-176-6.ch008
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“How do we define our project goal?” “How are we going to coordinate our independent national studies?” “Who is responsible for what?” “How are newcomers introduced to the project?” During the first year of co-operation among researchers from a variety of disciplines (labor law, sociology and organizational theory) and countries (Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States) all efforts went to answer those, apparently simple, questions. Inspired by the late Wittgenstein’s ideas on the performative character of language, the chapter follows the process by which an international and multidisciplinary group of researchers agree on a research goal, coordinate their work, distribute responsibilities, and socialize newcomers. That is, the process of organizing knowledge intensive work is approached from a performative view of language.
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The last 20 years have seen a growth in interest in the role played by language in the social sciences (Deetz, 1992; Potter & Wetherell, 1987; Silverman, 1993). The linguistic fervour has taken upon organizational studies in the form of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1995; Chia, 2000), conversation analysis (Tulin, 1997; Woodilla, 1998), narrative analysis (Boje, 1991; Czarniawska, 1997), and more recently, textual agency analysis (Cooren, 2000; Cooren, 2004).

Students of organization taking a linguistic approach to the field focus, most often than not, on the referential aspects of language. That is, studies aim at denoting, depicting or revealing a referent outside the actual speech situation – institutionalized discourses (Silverman, 1993, Tienari et al. 2005), prevailing ideologies (for an example see, Barley and Kunda, 1992), accounts from the field (Czarniawska, 1998), a set of representations (for an example, see Van Dijk, 1993), or the rhetorics of power. As Mats Alvesson and Dan Kärreman (2000) argue, these studies represent an incomplete linguistic approach since they focus not so much on language per se as on other phenomena (such as ideas, representations, meanings, etc.).

During the last thirty years, however, philosophers of language have stressed the importance of uncovering the performative aspects of language; that is, how the use of language in a particular situation in a given moment constructs the very situation and the actors engaged in it. Initiated by Austin (1975) and formalized by Searle (1969, 1995), speech act theory shows that talking is not merely about semantics, but about acting and sense-making. In this perspective, language use (in the form of oral or written texts) participates in the construction of social and organizational reality. As Potter argues, analysis of language becomes analysis of what people do with it in particular social settings (Potter, 1997).

The first and most immediate consequence of concentrating on the performative aspects of language is that, since focus is set on performativity, the researcher is suddenly attending to organizing processes. Focus moves away from organizations, the ready-made products of such processes. Instead of static institutions, discourses or ideologies, focus is addressed towards (active) speech acts or language games.

An attempt to move in such direction is made by François Cooren (2000). Trained within the field of communication, Cooren combines speech act theory with Greimas’ semio-narrative model to show how narrative structure can help understand organizing. Texts, he contends, participate in the production of organizations.

This chapter is an attempt to bring into focus the performative aspects of language in the organization of knowledge intensive work. Whereas Cooren focuses his analysis on ready-made texts (in the form of memory traces, written documents, or graphical devices) and how these can function as agents that drive the organizing process, I concentrate on the very acts of language use and how these participate in constituting organization. In this way, the chapter aims at contributing to a discussion on how a performative view of language can allow the researcher to follow and interpret such elusive a phenomenon as the process of organising knowledge intensive work. By looking at what actors do with words, what linguistic resources they use in their everyday life, and how these are used through a more or less prolonged period of time, it is possible to give an alternative account of knowledge intensive work.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Performative Perspective of Language: Perspective that focus on how the use of language in a particular situation and in a given moment constructs the very situation and the actors engaged in it.

Referential Perspective on Language: Perspective in which language is a mirror of reality and meaning a one to one relationship between words and the outside world.

Language Game: Key term in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, which challenges established notions about language. It refers to the linguistic practices around the use of words, pragmatics that determine the meaning of the particular word in the particular situation.

Meaning of a word (in the Performative Perspective): The meaning of a word is understood by how the word is used within their social context; that is, the meaning of a word is given by the function the word plays in the language game of the speakers; it is related to the rules of use of the word.

Circulating Reference: Series of translations and mutations of the referent. Focus is set on the net of transformations.

Metaphor: From the Greek metaphora: to transfer. Metaphors talk about how things are, not what they are. More generically, a metaphor is a rhetorical trope that describes a first object/subject as being equal to a second object/subject in some way. Metaphors connect disparate symbols, are shortcut explanations, and cannot be empirically tested.

Analysis: The term “analysis” comes from the Greek ana-lyein: to unloosen, to break up, to divide the whole into its components, breaking up a complex concetp into smaller parts to gain a better understanding.

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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
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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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