Tacit Knowledge and the Labour Process

  • Theodore Lewis


Virtually absent from the discourse on knowledge work in the new global economy are treatments of the question of knowledge ownership. There is a default assumption that knowledge yielded in the workplace rightly accrues to the employer, though much of it originates in the minds and out of the practice of workers. When that knowledge is tacit in nature, the question of ownership becomes even more acute. Tacit knowledge may provide workers their sense of uniqueness or identity in the workplace and may be an important yardstick by which they measure their worth to the organization. Tacit knowledge indeed is personal knowledge. Codifying and sharing such knowledge should therefore require the consent of those workers in whom it resides. This requires some sense of justice on the part of employers, as well as tactful human resource management approaches.

The new economy is characterized by job insecurity and severe erosion of the psychological contract between organizations and workers (see Suazo et al. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies 12(1):24–36, 2005). Thus, some workers may resist attempts to appropriate the knowledge upon which they draw to perform work if they believe that sharing could devalue their unique worth to the organization, making them more expendable. Social exchange theory teaches that workers are more likely to give up their own unique understandings for the greater good of the organization if they perceive themselves to be beneficiaries of the organization’s goodwill. The norm of reciprocity must be at play, where workers feel that they get value at work in return for giving up their know-how.


Human Capital Knowledge Management Knowledge Sharing Tacit Knowledge Knowledge Creation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Aggestam, L., Söderström, E., & Persson, A. (2010). Seven types of knowledge loss in the knowledge capture process. 18th European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS) Proceedings. Retrieved at:
  2. Bell, D. (1974). The coming of post-industrial society. New York: Harper Colophon Books.Google Scholar
  3. Blackler, F. (1995). Knowledge, knowledge work and organizations; an overview and interpretation. Organization Studies, 16(6), 1021–1046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Braverman, H. (1974, 1998). Labor and monopoly capital. New York: Monthly Labor Review Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brinkley, I. (2006). Defining the knowledge economy: Knowledge economy programme report. London: The Work Foundation.Google Scholar
  6. Brivot, M. (2011). Controls of knowledge production, sharing and use in bureaucratized professional service firms. Organization Studies, 32(4), 489–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brockmann, M., Clarke, L., & Winch, C. (2008). Skills competence, European divergences in vocational education and training (VET). The English, German and Dutch cases. Oxford Review of Education, 34(5), 547–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burawoy, M. (1979). Manufacturing consent. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  9. Busingye, J., & Keim, W. (2009). The political battlefield: Negotiating space to protect indigenous and traditional knowledge under capitalism. International Social Science Journal, 60(195), 37–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cabrera, A., Collins, W. C., & Salgado, J. F. (2006). Determinants of individual engagement in knowledge sharing. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 17, 245–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coates, D. (2000). Models of capitalism: Growth and stagnation in the modern era. Cambridge: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  12. Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. The American Journal of Sociology, 94(Suppl.), S95–S120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Drucker, P. (1969). The age of discontinuity; Guidelines to our changing society. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  14. Drucker, P. F. (1991). The new productivity challenge. Harvard Business Review, 69(6), 69–79.Google Scholar
  15. Edwards, R. C. (1979). Contested terrain: The transformation of the workplace in the twentieth century. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  16. Ekweozor, U., & Theodoulidis, B. (2010). Who owns the knowledge I share? American Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) 2010 Proceedings, Paper 434.
  17. Epstein, S. R. (1998). Craft guilds, apprenticeship, and technological change in preindustrial Europe. The Journal of Economic History, 58(3), 684–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Felin, T., & Hesterly, W. S. (2007). The knowledge-based view, nested heterogeneity, and new value creation: Philosophical considerations on the locus of knowledge. Academy of Management Review, 32(1), 195–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fisk, C. L. (2006). Credit where it’s due: The law and norms of attribution. The Georgetown Law Journal, 95, 49–117. Retrieved on October 3, 2011 at
  20. Fisk, C. L. (2009). Working knowledge: Employee innovation and the rise of corporate intellectual property. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fleming, P., Harley, H., & Sewell, G. (2004). A little knowledge is a dangerous thing: Getting below the surface of the growth of ‘knowledge work’ in Australia. Work Employment and Society, 18(4), 725–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Foucault, M. (1980). Discipline and punish: The birth of a prison. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  23. Frenkel, S., Korczynski, M., Donoghue, L., & Shire, K. (1995). Re-constituting work: Trends towards knowledge work and info-normative control. Work Employment and Society, 9(4), 773–796.Google Scholar
  24. Gertler, M. S. (2003). Tacit knowledge and the economic geography of context, or the undefinable tacitness of being (there). Journal of Economic Geography, 3, 75–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Goldin, C. (2001). The human-capital century and American leadership: Virtues of the past. The Journal of Economic History, 61(2), 263–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hecht, J. (2001). Classical labour-displacing technological change: the case of the US insurance industry. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 25, 517–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Howells, J. R. L. (2002). Tacit knowledge, innovation and economic geography. Urban Studies, 39(5–6), 871–884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kalleberg, A. L., Wallace, M., Loscocco, K. A., Leicht, K., & Ehm, H.-H. (1987). The eclipse of craft: The changing face of labor in the newspaper industry. In D. B. Cornfield (Ed.), Workers, managers and technological change: Emerging patterns of labor relations (pp. 47–71). New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kamoche, K., & Maguire, K. (2010). Pit sense: Appropriation of practice-based knowledge in a UK coalmine. Human Relations, 64(5), 725–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Knights, D. (1990). Subjectivity, power, and the labor process. In D. Knights & H. Willmott (Eds.), Labour process theory (pp. 297–335). London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  31. Liu, N.-C., & Liu, M.-S. (2011). Human resource practices and individual knowledge-sharing behavior: An empirical study for Taiwanese R & D professionals. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 22(4), 981–997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Machlup, F. (1962). The production and distribution of knowledge in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  33. MacKenzie, D., & Spinardi, G. (1995). Tacit knowledge, weapons design, and the uninvention of nuclear weapons. The American Journal of Sociology, 101(1), 44–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Martins, E. C., & Martins, N. (2011). The role of organizational factors in combining tacit knowledge loss in organizations. South African Business Review, 25(1), 49–69.Google Scholar
  35. Nonaka, I. (1991). The knowledge-creating company. Harvard Business Review, 69, 96–104 (November–December).Google Scholar
  36. Nonaka, I., & von Krough, G. (2009). Tacit knowledge and knowledge conversion: Controversy and advancement in organizational knowledge creation theory. Organization Science, 20(3), 635–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (1996). The knowledge-based economy. Paris: Author.Google Scholar
  38. Osterman, P. (1994). How common is workplace transformation and who adopts it? Industrial & Labor Relations Review, 47(2), 173–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pathirage, C. P., Amaratunga, D. G., & Haigh, R. P. (2007). Tacit knowledge and organizational performance; construction industry perspective. Journal of Knowledge Management, 11(1), 115–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Polanyi, M. (1962). Tacit knowing: Its bearing on some problems of philosophy. Review of Modern Physics, 34(4), 601–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Polanyi, M. (1968). Logic and psychology. American Psychologist, 23(1), 27–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Powell, W. W., & Snellman, K. (2004). The knowledge economy. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 199–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Raelin, J. A. (1997). A model of work-based learning. Organization Science, 8(6), 563–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Roberts, J. (2001). The drive to codify: Implications for knowledge-based. Prometheus, 19(2), 99–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sayce, S., Ackers, P., & Greene, A.-M. (2007). Work restructuring and changing craft identity; the tale of the disaffected weavers (or what happens when the rug is pulled from under your feet). Work Employment and Society, 21(1), 85–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Simon, H. (1991). Bounded rationality and organizational learning. Organization Science, 2(1), 125–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Smith, C., Valsecchi, R., Mueller, F., & Gabe, J. (2008). Knowledge and the discourse of labour process transformation: Nurses and the case of NHS direct for England. Work Employment and Society, 22(4), 581–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Starke, F. A., Dyck, B., & Mauws, M. K. (2003). Coping with the sudden loss of an indispensible employee: An exploratory case study. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 39(2), 208–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stevens, E. W. (1990). Technology, literacy, and early industrial expansion in the United States. History of Education Quarterly, 30(4), 523–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stone, K. V. W. (2002). Knowledge at work: Disputes over the ownership of human capital in the changing workplace. Connecticut Law Review, 34, 721–781.Google Scholar
  51. Suazo, M. M., Turnley, W. H., & Mai, R. R. (2005). The role of perceived violation in determining employees’ reactions to psychological contract breach. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 12(1), 24–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Teerajetgul, W., & Chareonngam, C. (2008). Tacit knowledge utilization in Thai construction projects. Journal of Knowledge Management, 12(1), 164–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Thompson, P., Warhurst, C., & Callaghan, G. (2001). Ignorant theory and knowledge workers: Interrogating the connections between knowledge, skills and services. Journal of Management Studies, 38(7), 923–942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Warhurst, C., & Thompson, P. (2006). Mapping knowledge in work: Proxies or practices? Work Employment and Society, 20(4), 787–800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wilson, W., & Hogarth, T. (2003). Tackling the low skills equilibrium: A review of issues and some new evidence. Institute for Employment Research. Retrieved September 25, 2011, at:
  56. Zuboff, S. (1988). In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Trinidad and TobagoWallerfieldTrinidad and Tobago

Personalised recommendations