The 'Value' of Knowledge: Reappraising Labour in the Post-Industrial Economy

The 'Value' of Knowledge: Reappraising Labour in the Post-Industrial Economy

Steffen Boehm (University of Essex, UK) and Chris Land (University of Essex, UK)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-176-6.ch029
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Knowledge is implicitly assumed to form an increasingly important, or even the dominant source of values for today’s knowledge based organizations. It is rare, however, to encounter writings questioning what is ‘value’, enquiring into its provenance, or examining its distribution amongst organization’s stakeholders. This chapter asks these very questions, focusing on Marx’s (1976) formulation of value theory. Divided into four parts, it begins by giving a basic overview of the labour theory of value, as developed by Marx in mid 19th century, industrialised England. The second part examines Roy Jacques’ (2000) critique of Marx, his rejection of the adequacy of ‘labour’ as a concept for analysing contemporary value production, and his call for a ‘knowledge theory of value’. The third section focuses on labour process theorist Paul Thompson (2005) and his challenge to the idea that labour and knowledge are fundamentally different. The fourth part extends this concern with ‘other’ forms of contemporary labour to a more global level by examining De Angelis’ (2006) and Retort’s (2005) suggestion that the global economy today is driven by acts of enclosure and ‘primitive accumulation.’
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For writings on knowledge management, knowledge based organizations, the knowledge economy and knowledge intensive firms, it is an implicit assumption that knowledge is an increasingly important, perhaps even the dominant, source of value for organizations today (Drucker, 1968; Leadbeater, 1999; Tapscott, 1996; Wenger et al, 2002). Knowledge, it is assumed, can create value in a number of ways: increasing access to cheaper resources or to new markets; fostering technical and organizational innovation; enhancing awareness of, and responsiveness to, the demands of customers; reducing the inefficiencies of repeatedly reinventing the wheel, especially in large, multi-national, distributed organizations. The list goes on. What is rare, however, is for such writings to ask exactly what ‘value’ is, to enquire into its provenance, or to question its distribution amongst the various stakeholders that constitute ‘the organization’ in its broader sense. This is despite value-creation being one of the key objectives of management, at least within capitalist enterprises (Jacques, 2000).

In this chapter we want to open up this discussion of value and knowledge by connecting with a set of well established debates over the locus of value in the economy. As we are concerned here with the substance of value – what value is and how it is created – we start not with neo-classical economics and marginalism but rather with the labour theory of value, as developed by Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx. In this paper we focus on Marx’s (1976) formulation of value theory for three reasons. First, as he was writing after Smith and Ricardo and built upon their ideas, his formulation of the labour theory of value is arguably the most developed. Second, Marx’s critical perspective on political economy offers a critical leverage that allows us, even today, to address questions of social values alongside technical considerations of economic value. Third, and finally, Marx’s legacy has been 150 years of intense theoretical exegesis, commentary, critique and development so that lines of analysis can be followed to examine the relevance of his ideas today.

The structure of the chapter is in four parts. The first gives a basic overview of the labour theory of value, as developed by Marx (1976) in mid 19th century, industrialised England. This provides the theoretical basis for the following discussions as well as indicating some points of continued relevance in Marx’s theory today. The second part of the chapter examines Roy Jacques’ (2000) critique of Marx, his rejection of the adequacy of ‘labour’ as a concept for analysing contemporary value production, and his call for a ‘knowledge theory of value’. This is the section that is closest to conventional concerns with knowledge work and management. Jacques’ critique of Marx resonates with other writings on the knowledge economy by suggesting a recent rupture, associated with the development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), between industrial capitalist and post-industrial forms of organization and value production. His critique of Marx thus provides us with a basis for evaluating Marx’s theory of value, and its applicability to the world today. It also provides us with a counterpoint from which to evaluate the more contemporary Marxist perspectives examined in the third and fourth parts of the chapter. The third section examines labour process theorist Paul Thompson (2005) and his colleagues’ (e.g., Warhurst and Thompson, 1998; Thompson et al., 2001) challenge to the idea that labour and knowledge are fundamentally different. This section draws attention to the empirical realities of work for the majority of people today, including those in so-called ‘advanced’ capitalist economies. Focusing on the UK, evidence is presented that suggests knowledge work has too readily been conflated with service work in general, despite much work in this sector being highly routinised, poorly paid, and sharing little with the dominant representations of knowledge work found in mainstream managerial writings. The fourth section extends this concern with ‘other’ forms of contemporary labour to a more global level by examining De Angelis’ (2006) and Retort’s (2005) suggestion that the global economy today is driven by acts of enclosure and ‘primitive accumulation’ (Marx, 1976) whereby labour, resources and markets are expropriated for private profit through the exercise of naked power, predominantly through privatisation and military activity.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge: A person’s expertise and skills knowledge economy: A term used in the last two decades to point to developments in primiarly Western economies that are said to be more dependent on the economic exploitation of people’s knowledge and continuous learning.

Marx: One of the most important political economists who analysed the workings of the commodity form in capitalism.

Jacques: A management and organisation theorist who has put forward a ‘knowledge theory of value’.

Primitive Accumulation: A classical politico-economic term used by Marx and others to define the enclosure of ‘the commons’ and hence the starting point of private property and capitalist profit making.

Value: An ethical as well as economic term to express a degree of worthiness or importance.

Work: A general term to define all types of paid activity by humans.

Labour: also, wage labour: Work done by humans as workers who have to sell their labour to employers to make a living.

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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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