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Keywords:

  • knowledge management;
  • theory of the firm;
  • pluralistic epistemology

Abstract

Knowledge is too problematic a concept to make the task of building a dynamic knowledge-based theory of the firm easy. We must also distinguish the theory from the resource-based and evolutionary views. The paper begins with a multitype epistemology which admits both the pre- and subconscious modes of human knowing and, reframing the concept of the cognizing individual, the collective knowledge of social groups. While both Nelson and Winter, and Nonaka and Takeuchi, successfully sketch theories of the dynamic interactions of these types of organizational knowledge, neither indicates how they are to be contained. Callon and Latour suggest knowledge itself is dynamic and contained within actor networks, so moving us from knowledge as a resource toward knowledge as a process. To simplify this approach, we revisit sociotechnical systems theory, adopt three heuristics from the social constructionist literature, and make a distinction between the systemic and component attributes of the actor network. The result is a very different mode of theorizing, less an objective statement about the nature of firms ‘out there’ than a tool to help managers discover their place in the firm as a dynamic knowledge-based activity system.