Discourse, dogma, and domination : knowledge work as art and politics

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The thesis critically analyses the gaps among management literatures as discourses of ambition and evaluates them against the realities that constitute praxis. The work provides a different insight into organisational and management theory that encourages critical thinking about the normalising effects of discourse, and points to the possibilities that can emerge from engaging with alternative perspectives, such as those emanating from practitioners. The analytic framework that is used to identify and explicate this hiatus is drawn from Foucault’s genealogy, which is used as a method for conceptualising and explaining relationships between and among discourses. Genealogy is also used to show that there is not merely one way of perceiving an object of discourse and thus creating meaning, but many. The topic of the thesis is knowledge work. The assumption that there is a clear and abiding descriptor of knowledge work supports an erroneous perception that there is consensus in interpretation and that its meanings are fixed and uncontested. Rather, the concept of knowledge work is ambiguous and highly contested. It is inconsistently conceptualised in the literature and scholars frequently omit any definition or clarification of what knowledge work is, perhaps assuming that their readers will have an inherent and automatic understanding of it. The thesis navigates the many discourses of knowledge work. It shows that in practical terms, inferences of neutrality and normality are instead prescriptions, through which different interpretations pit those who prescribe against those who do. Knowledge work has emerged as a significant domain of practice and discourse that resonates within the fields of organisational and management theory, and within the circuits of business, consulting, education, and policy formation. Knowledge has become the business of business, such that the discourse of knowledge work has become significant within the discursive knowledge fields of organisation studies, management studies, economics, technology, intellectual property, globalisation, and finance. The importance of knowledge work is such, that in contemporary discourses it is seen as facilitating a new golden age of a knowledge society. The dissertation tackles this hypothesis through two historical illustrations. The first shows that the modern concept of knowledge work emerged as a response to particular historical conditions to refract social, economic and political circumstances. The second illuminates an antecedent of the contemporary ‘knowledge society’ to show that it is neither new nor unique.
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