Making sense of knowledge work
Sammanfattning: According to a dominant discourse in contemporary writings and research, we are living in a Knowledge Economy where knowledge is seen as the pre-eminent resource and the key to success for individuals as well as organizations and nations. Consequently, much effort in management research has been dedicated to devising new concepts and theories such as the knowledge-based theory of the firm and the intellectual capital perspective, all premised on the assumption that knowledge work is somehow different from other forms of work. But what, actually, is knowledge work? And what is it that makes it so different?This dissertation represents an attempt to make some sense of this discourse. Research themes investigate the role of tangible and intangible dimensions of knowledge work and organizations. Particular attention is paid to organizational identity and the physical work environment. The notion of identity is central to the Knowledge Economy Rhetoric, while the physical setting is a neglected, but potentially important, aspect of knowledge work and identity construction. Various theoretical and methodological perspectives were applied throughout the research process to illuminate these themes. The thesis covers two empirical case studies; one of a small high-tech firm in the telecommunications sector as it developed a knowledge based strategy. The other study explored the relationship between the design of the office and identity construction in a large IT/management consulting firm. In addition, a study of the literature on the organizational category of knowledge-intensive firms was conducted to explore the dominant constructions of knowledge work within the research community. The results from these studies are presented in five papers. While addressing different questions, the papers all deal with some aspect of sensemaking of, or in, knowledge work. The first paper describes how the management team in the case company went through a process to make sense of the intangible dimensions of their organization. The second paper is a conceptual treatise outlining an alternative conceptualization of strategy for knowledge-intensive firms that emphasizes the importance of identity. Paper three provides an analysis of how the category of knowledge-intensive firms is used in the research literature and the consequences thereof. In paper four branding is analyzed as a management practice. The last paper discusses the role of emotion, ambivalence and embodied experience of the physical environment in identity construction.The exposition reflects further on the insights from this journey and what they entail for making sense of knowledge work. It is argued that a better understanding of knowledge work has to take the knowledge worker – the individual – as the starting point for theorizing. Taking this position requires us to scrutinize the theoretical perspectives that guide our conceptualizations of the knowledge worker. Theoretical perspectives are constructions that allow us to see certain things and not others. Current conceptualizations are, by necessity, extensions of earlier dominant perspectives or worldviews. Based on the findings from the empirical studies, an alternative perspective is proposed that takes the embodied experience of the knowledge worker as a point of departure. Implications of this perspective for conceptualizing and studying knowledge work are then discussed.
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