Samson and Delilah as a Discourse of Communities of Practice

Samson and Delilah as a Discourse of Communities of Practice

Jennifer Adelstein (University of Technology, Australia & International College of Management, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-802-4.ch007


The chapter conceptualizes that an impasse may arise between management and knowledge practitioners in divulging the quantity and quality of knowledge made available for organizational use. Rather than facilitating the flow of information from knowledge practitioners to the organization, CoPs may become another conflicted terrain of unequal power relationships. While laying out these possibilities, the chapter also suggests that there could be a different outcome, one that rebalances the pendulum of power relationships for the mutual benefit and interests of both management and knowledge practitioners.
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The chapter engages with a prevailing managerial notion that organization knowledge is the successful result of transferring knowledge from the minds and practices of knowledge practitioners to the organization, which, in turn, only requires establishment of communities of practice (CoPs). One such cohort of management and organizational scholars argues that implementation of CoPs has resolved the debates about whether knowledge practitioners are willing to share their knowledge (Brown & Duguid, 1991, 1998; Davenport & Hall, 2002; Horibe, 1999; Lave & Wenger, 1991; van Baalen et al, 2005; Wenger, 1998). CoPs provide the socialized spheres that encourage knowledge sharing within organizational contexts. Such discourses dominate management and organizational literature, and have become widely accepted as de rigueur organizational practice by management and business consultants (such as global consultants Accenture, Gartner Group, International Data Corporation, Meta Group, and more).

Other theorists suggest that in idealizing such organizational practices as CoPs, three problems are illuminated. The first problem is that knowledge practitioners – or knowledge workers as they are also known – may be unwilling to share their knowledge (Davenport et al, 1998; Kärreman & Alvesson, 2004; Scarbrough, 1999). The second is that knowledge sharing may be contested and conflicted, and traversed by discourses of power (Adelstein, 2007; Clegg & Palmer, 1996; Deetz 1994; Garrick & Clegg, 2000). Indeed, resistance may be such that knowledge workers may actively work against a management-desired smooth transition of knowledge from themselves to the organization in order to protect their roles within the organization and balance the position of power between management and knowledge practitioners (Adelstein & Clegg, 2011; Clegg, 1997; Orr, 1991; Scarbrough, 1999).

A third problem is that the extent of success of CoPs in their present form is uncertain because such success cannot be predicted or measured. Herein lay the twin problems for management: first, are CoPs productive in relation to how much knowledge is being transferred; and, second, how can the quality of that knowledge for organizational innovation be assessed? In recognition of these problems, management is beginning to impose stringent measurement schemata on CoP interactions (Kaplan & Norton, 2007; Wiig, 1999a) to create a “technologified” view of knowledge. This view extends far beyond the traditional knowledge management strategies of capturing explicit knowledge to make it organizationally accessible, and shifts towards the capture and measurement of implicit knowledge described by Polanyi (1962) as hidden in the heads of the ‘knowers’. At the same time, the problems of an imposed regime of power and its contestation, which are implicated in such management schemata for knowledge transfer, are denied.

Through subtle shifts in the discourses of communities of practice and organizational knowledge, CoPs have emerged as a salve for knowledge-based organizational strategies. The theory presents us with a view that management has secured, or at least begun to secure, the knowledge territory: an organization can access what employees know by applying technologies of knowledge management to CoPs. Although the application of technologies to the intangibility of CoPs may be seen as successful in terms of their management by organizations, this view is under researched in terms of the viability and sustainability of CoPs occasioned by management/practitioner power relations, and has yet to be developed in any meaningful way in the literature. The chapter proposes to theorize the problematics of securing the CoP territory within a management/knowledge practitioner power relationship.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge Practitioner/Worker: Individual employees or other organizational members who work with and combine various abstract concepts of knowledge to solve problems for the benefit of an organization. Their knowledge is based on structured and accredited learning, which is then applied in different ways to resolve business problems and create value for an organization. An example is business analysts who combine their education and experiences to evaluate business opportunities and potential. Such knowledge practitioners might use a CoP to discuss various aspects of a business, to arrive at a combined perspective they may not necessarily have achieved on their own. In this way, sharing knowledge is of great value to the firm for which these practitioners work.

Praxis: A set of practices or routines.

Organizational Knowledge: Transfer of knowledge (based on an individual’s learning and experiences, and their application to solving work-related problems) from an individual to the organization, so that the organization rather than the individual owns it, and it has value for an organization to repackage as a service or offering.

Discourse: The way in which an object is understood in a particular way through how it is spoken about and enacted. Discourses may be broadened to include other discourses, which may be linked in such a way that what we know and do about one is integral to our understanding of the other. A discourse gains dominance when other ways of thinking about the object are rarely considered.

Power, Power Relations, Power Relationships: Power is generally perceived as either having power over something (dominant or sovereign power) or having the power to do something (productive power). In the context of the chapter, the discussion is mostly about the power of management hierarchy, that is, management has power over subordinates and tries to force subordinates to do what it wants, including sharing knowledge.

Community Of Practice: A socialized environment voluntarily created by work colleagues for themselves, in which they discuss, cooperate and solve problems and issues of concern to them with colleagues who share these concerns. Such environments generally involve members and exist for as long as participants hold such concerns and are interested in discussing them.

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