Edited by David Rooney, Greg Hearn and Abraham Ninan
Chapter 19: The Knowledge Worker: A Metaphor in Search of a Meaning?
Richard Joseph Introduction The concept of the knowledge worker has now been around for over 40 years. Given the importance of the knowledge economy in present policy discussions, one could be excused for thinking that the knowledge worker, as an academic topic, would have been well and truly settled and now a feature of management practice. However, ironically, this would seem not to be the case. Of three major international handbooks published late in 2003, The Blackwell Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management (Easterby-Smith and Lyles 2003), The International Handbook on Innovation (Shavinina 2003) and New Economy Handbook (Jones 2003), only one makes reference to knowledge workers and knowledge work in its index. If anything, the knowledge worker appears to be subsumed within more generally accepted terms such as organizational learning, the learning organization, organizational knowledge and knowledge management. What might this be indicative of? This chapter explores the concept of knowledge worker as a metaphor and asks if the meanings commonly associated with it may need revitalization. Weick (2003, p. xviii) has remarked that The concepts of learning that we now work with may seem more complex than their predecessors because we have made more refined differentiations of what we inherited. But it is also true that what we have inherited are simplified solutions to what originally were much more complex problems. The solutions have been simplified as they go from investigator to investigator and become farther removed from their origins. To go back to earlier work, to...
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