Anti-Foundational Knowledge Management

Anti-Foundational Knowledge Management

Tom Butler
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-933-5.ch258
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Under the influence of Enlightenment epistemological thought, the social sciences have exhibited a distinct tendency to prefer deterministic1 explanations of social phenomena. In the sociology of knowledge, for example, “foundational” researchers seek to arrive at objective knowledge of social phenomena through the application of “social scientific methodolog[ies] based on the eternal truths of human nature, purged of historical and cultural prejudices” and which also ignore the subjective intrusions of social actors (Hekman, 1986, p. 5). This article argues that “foundationalist” perspectives heavily influence theory and praxis in knowledge management. “Foundationalist” thinking is particularly evident in the posited role of IT in creating, capturing, and diffusing knowledge in social and organisational contexts. In order to address what many would consider to be a deficiency in such thinking, a constructivist “antifoundationalist” perspective is presented that considers socially constructed knowledge as being simultaneously “situated” and “distributed” and which recognizes its role in shaping social action within “communities-of-practice.” In ontological terms, the constructivist “antifoundational” paradigm posits that realities are constructed from multiple, intangible mental constructions that are socially and experientially based, local and specific in nature, and which are dependent on their form and content on the individual persons or groups holding the constructions (see Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Bruner, 1990). One of the central assumptions of this paradigm is that there exist multiple realities with differences among them that cannot be resolved through rational processes or increased data. Insights drawn from this short article are addressed to academics and practitioners in order to illustrate the considerable difficulties inherent in representing individual knowledge and of the viability of isolating, capturing, and managing knowledge in organisational contexts with or without the use of IT.

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