Towards a critical approach to knowledge management : framing a new paradigm
This thesis seeks to make a contribution to the critical literature on management, and, particularly, to the critique of knowledge management (KM). It suggests that the mainstream understanding of KM has some important problems, but we cannot see them as a disease curable by new managerial techniques. Rather, it is argued that management to a certain extent may be part of the problem of which it is purported to be the solution. The mainstream approach to KM has its roots in the predominant view of knowledge which assumes that the application of knowledge contributes to societal progress, within the context of the common social good. This view may be in some sense axiomatic and universal, but it might pose a problem insofar as it relies on a human-centred belief that knowledge endows man with the superior ability to dominant his environment. This belief is further strengthened by a neo-classical economic understanding of the world which presumes that we can see knowledge as a resource to serve our economic interest. However, from some poststructuralist perspectives, knowledge is inseparable from power, and this means that knowledge may contain uncontrollable dimensions and may generate unwarranted consequences beyond economic concerns. Moreover, from a deep ecological view, our industrial activity has become one of the major causes of environmental crisis, and the process is itself accelerated by the efficient application of knowledge in the production system. The limits of the application of knowledge are illustrated through a consideration of issues raised in mainstream KM because it seems to be an epitome of the predominant understanding of both knowledge and management. Via a theoretical excursion, it is suggested that the orthodox concept of KM has some intrinsic problems. On the one hand it embraces the age-old belief that, with modern techniques, we have ultimate control over our environment, and on the other it assumes that knowledge can be used to meet a sectional requirement - economic efficiency, while ignoring the dark side of economic growth in relation to non-monetary social and ecological costs. An additional element is the view that sees management as a (conceptual or practical) too] to serve the purpose of managing knowledge. However, it is not our business to discuss these problems except insofar as the current state of KM offers a weak response to them. One of the main reasons is that mainstream KM is often mired in a framework in which economic values have attained the highest regard and economic goals have somewhat displaced other social objectives. Nevertheless the, dilemma is that knowledge is too powerful and too indispensable for modem society; that is, we cannot simply abandon tile concept of KM, because the application of knowledge has already become an integral part of modem life, and business organisations are becoming more demanding in terms of the use of functionally specialised knowledge. Faced with these difficulties, it is argued that we need to articulate an alternative understanding of KM, and this work suggests that such a project can be grounded on what can be termed 'ecological consciousness'. However, this requires two major things. First, we suggest that since mainstream KM has its roots in the predominant, economic understanding of knowledge and management, we need to re-examine these two components and the relationships between them. Second, we shall illustrate an alternative set of worldviews and decision criteria for KM which escapes the eco-systematic problems and is emancipatory in essence. That is to say, the ultimate intention is to construct some alternative, thought tentative, possibilities of KM.