The mind in the soulful machine

1. Incorporating knowing

Fortifying the meta-routine of efficiency required perfecting supporting routines; thus political economy shaded into moral economy as the 1930s developed. Slowly, it became evident that efficient routines could only be founded on the social and cultural rehabilitation of the worker as a whole person rather than merely their perfection as an instrument of political economy. The political economy project was doomed by one simple substantive fact. What people ordinarily know and do – sometimes in ways that a theory never captures – is essential to how organizations are able to do what they do. The one best way could never be entirely prescribed; and where it was attempted then, by definition, something close to a non-learning organization would be instituted. Even scientific managers could realize this in the main lesson of the Hawthorne Studies. It was a realization that became the impe- tus for Mayo’s moral economy project.

The moral economy project was not really as radical as some of its prophets, such as Mayo, assumed. It built on what Taylor bequeathed. It didn’t deconstruct the legacy. Contemporary theory builds on the legacy of both of these schools. In this approach, the ordinary knowledge of ordinary people is regarded as a neglected resource that managers must access, use and routinize. They will do this through the simple strategies of building social capital (brought into focus primarily through the work of Robert Putnam 1993; 1995) and through the use of those coactive power strategies that Mary Parker Follett had recommended for building such capital all those years ago. Once social capital has been identified, then new routines can be constructed. Social capital takes care of the coactivity while knowledge management will structure the new routines. It is tempting to see the former as a continuation of the concern with the moral economy and the latter as a simple extension of scientific management – to incorporate the mind as well as the body and soul of the employee. We explore this proposition in what follows.

2. Social capital

Social capital is a new idea with deep roots that go back to Mary Parker Follett. In theories that draw on the same wellspring of ideas that we find in Follett (whether it is realized or not), social capital is defined as ‘the sum of actual and potential resources embedded within, available through, and derived from the network of relationships possessed by an individual or social unit’ (Nahapiet and Ghoshal 1998: 243). Firms are ‘understood as a social community specializing in the speed and efficiency in the creation and transfer of knowledge’ (Kogut and Zander 1996: 503). Organizations, designed to bring people together for task completion, super- vision and coordination, result in frequent and dense levels of social contacts, creating coactive power in Follett’s terms. Social capital, as Follett realized, makes it possible for ends to be achieved that, in its absence, could otherwise only be achieved at additional cost.9

The social capital concept privileges the worker as a ‘knowledge worker’ with embrained rather than embodied knowledge (Blackler 1995). Such employees are potentially mobile and can go to another employer; thus, they must be kept loyal by avoidance of coercion (which, much as the use of tight contracts, destroys trust) and by use of soft power (see Fox 1974 on power and trust relations).

Trust and control can be viewed as structures of interrelated situated practices that influence the development of different forms of expert power in particular organizational contexts. In this view, trust and control relations are generative mechanisms that play a role in the production, reproduction and transformation of expert power. Trust is based on predictability of behavior, where some type of control or self-control mechanism influences such predictability. Trust and control are closely associated (Reed 2001; Maguire et al. 2001). Many organizations attempt to ‘manage’ trust as a means of control (Knights et al. 2001). Maguire et al. (2001) have suggested several ways in which this happens including actively manipulating the employee using rewards, acquiring information about the employee and thus rendering him/her more predictable and hence controllable, and actively manipulating the goodwill of the employee by increasing his/her identification with the organization.

The rhetoric of ‘trust’ often sits uncomfortably in the context of all the routines constituting a ‘low-trust’ workplace of design of technologies and of work by stan- dardized procedures. Contemporary labor process studies carried out or reviewed by Thompson and Ackroyd (1995; 1999) and Thompson and Warhurst (1998) sug- gest that we need to untangle the managerial rhetoric and intention from the real- ities of the situation.

3. Knowledge management

Knowledge management is another new idea with deep roots that go back to Frederick Taylor and scientific management. Two aspects of knowledge manage- ment are relevant here. First, there is the treatment of knowledge as a commodity, through the mechanization and objectification of knowledge creation, diffusion, and storage. Treated this way it increases management’s sense of control. Second, there is soft domination of the knowledge worker by identification-based control. The highest degree of trust is when the person completely identifies with the orga- nization, in which case his/her self-image is aligned with managerially determined objectives (Alvesson and Willmott 2002). What knowledge management seeks to do is to draw from the tacit knowledge of individuals and the social capital of the group to construct new and improved routines. The thrust of scientific manage- ment and the many subsequent clones spawned from its political economy, such as knowledge management, was that routines produce increased efficiency where the correspondence between relations of knowledge is closed, where the worker does exactly what the scientific manager prescribes. Taylor and his heirs sought to make workers functionaries of knowledge relations defined externally to the ‘being there’ of the workers. Yet, paradoxically, as the Hawthorne Studies first revealed, effi- ciency is determined by the extent to which individual knowledge and expertise are accessed and utilized (Grant 1996a: 380).

In the most current clone of scientific management – which is knowledge management – efficiency is based on common knowledge as a prerequisite to the com- munication of direction and routine. Translating specialist information depends on the sophistication and level of common knowledge. Second, the frequency and vari- ability of task performance change the efficiency of knowledge integration (Nelson and Winter 1982). The efficiency of comprehending and responding appropriately among employees involved in tasks is a function of frequency of task performance. Third, organizational structure that reduces the extent and intensity of communi- cation to achieve integration assists efficiency, and to this end the employee has to be integrated into the enterprise as an obedient rather than a resistant subject. Knowledge management grows out of the cross-pollination of scientific manage- ment and human relations theory to make obedient subjects creative.10

Knowledge management is an instrument producing new routines that result from acquiring and distilling knowledge of tacit experiences and action that is embedded in social and institutional practice (Spender and Kijne 1996; Brown and Duguid 1991). Individual public performances draw on private parts of the self – the soul in Follett’s terms – in interactions (Nelson and Winter 1982). Thus, as recent theory has it, ‘the primary role of the firm is in integrating specialist knowledge resident in individuals into goods and services’ (Grant 1996b: 120). Knowledge management institutes what Garrick and Clegg (2000) have referred to as an ‘organizational gothic’ at the heart of organizational life, a capacity to suck the vitality from the individual body and soul in order to enhance the vitality of the corporate body for increased efficiency and reduced costs, through greater coactive power. The allusion to Dracula is intended; the practice seems as gothic as any Hammer horror movie.

4. Power/knowledge management

Individuals share uniquely held knowledge on the basis of what is held in common among them. Common knowledge refers to the ‘common cognitive ground’ among employees that facilitates knowledge transfer through promoting dialog and communication – what Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995: 14) term ‘redundancy’. Redundancy creates an intentional overlap of information held by employees that facilitates transferring and integrating explicit and tacit knowledge. Knowledge about elements not directly related to immediate operational requirements that arises from images in tacit knowledge can be shared through redundant information about business activities, management responsibilities, the company, products and services (1995: 81–2). Competitive, individuated, relations of power make this knowledge difficult to surface. Coercive power leads to zero-sum games, win/lose scenarios, power/resistance, and resource dependency (see Chapter 5). It creates power effects more akin to rape than seduction, as Stokes and Clegg (2002) argue. The rape and seduction analogy suggests that seduction would seek to elicit expert knowing representing a rich and anchored context, whereas rape absconds with the partial acquisition of knowledge without context, and thus, lacking situated mean- ing, promotes only a wrenching of something unwillingly given. That is why the pro- jects of knowledge management and social capital are seeking to become aligned. First, use coactive power to seduce knowledge that can become the basis for the new routines. Then, when the new routines are established they take on a coercive power of their own, as individuals can be held accountable to them. The major problem with the knowledge management project is that we all carry a great deal of redundancy around in our heads. If you don’t know what you know until you need to know it, how can you know what you have stored away in the junk room, so to speak, as ‘redundant knowledge’? When the time is ripe, relevant knowledge surges forth unbidden, but you cannot take an inventory of the ‘redundant’ when the time isn’t ripe.11 There has to be someone knowing something in some context before knowledge can be known, let alone abstracted. The study of knowledge management should really be a study of power/knowledge management because its processes are indivisible from those of power:

At the core of management is the legitimation, extension, and normalization of dominant property rights, the practical disciplining of the everyday organizational life of members, and the framing of knowledge that can be ascribed a key role in extending, limiting, and otherwise shaping these rights. I call this the discourse of power/knowledge – a dis- course that, in academic terms, functions as a surrogate for discussion of sovereignty. (Clegg 2003: 536)

All forms of organization are forms of organization of social relations. All social relations involve power relations. Power is evident in relations not only of own- ership and control but also of structuration and design. These relations take many forms. They may be embodied as financial capital, intellectual capital, or social capital. Such relations are likely to be both differentially distributed and socially constructed as well as to exist in differential demand in differentiated markets. Power is also evident in the various forms of knowledge that constitute, structure, and shape these markets and organizations, what is referred to today as knowl- edge management. What is novel in knowledge management, in its variation on the repertoire of scientific management, is the orientation to the brain rather than the body, the fusion with the moral economy of social capital, and the combina- tion of coactive with coercive power. It frames the new combinations of power/ knowledge that are so evident in soft power today, as we will explore further in Chapter 12.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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