Tacit and Explicit once more: Types of Knowledge and Knowing

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I am blogging about Hara last because, to be honest, I really struggled with this book. There is just so much in it, and there’s so little I know about public defenders. But there was one section I came across that I had to write about: the three types of knowledge Hara presents. Hara writes that there is cultural knowledge, which he defines as “what it is like to be a member of a certain profession” (114); book knowledge, which is knowledge taken in from documents; and practical knowledge, which Hara states is knowing how to use book knowledge.
Hana also doesn’t dismiss the ideas of tacit and explicit; instead, these three types of knowledge hara table 7.1show different degrees of tacitness and explicitness. Cultural knowledge is more tacit, while book knowledge is more explicit. I like to think of it this way: book knowledge is knowing how to read the instructions to build a bookshelf. Practical knowledge is knowing how to read the instructions and use them to actually build a bookshelf. Cultural knowledge is knowing when you need a hammer without having to read instructions.

Of course, with so many classmates talking about it, I had to read Szulanski‘s article on stickiness. One of the reasons he gives for barriers to knowledge is “casual ambiguity”, which is a lack of understanding between what has happened and the root cause. Say you have two computers, both of which are crashing. Because you don’t understand the root cause of the sickness, you treat them both the same. That’s how I understand the term “casual ambiguity”; it’s a little bit assumption, a little bit ignorance, and a little bit uncertainty.

Blackler‘s article was a little older, and what I liked most was the way he walked through definitions of different types of knowledge: embodied, encultured, embedded, and encoded. It’s going to take me some time to process Blacker’s article, just because of the age. I need to find a place for it in my mental timeline, working out what has been discovered since the article was written and how the thoughts Blackler writes about still apply.

I like the tone of Cowan et al’s article, as it feels they are speaking in more casual tones about a subject which has become highly formal in my mind. Sometimes I find myself thinking of Tacit Knowledge as this big, formal idea that’s only talked about by scholars (not true, by the way). Cowan et al start by reminding the reader of Polanyi right away, and by making sharp comments about a community that has used the term without truly defining it first. Their definition of tacit knowledge is different than many of the articles I’ve read previously because it doesn’t exclude things we can name. Maybe it’s better to explain using an example.

Previously I used the example of driving for the tacit/explicit divide. I said that the explicit was the directions you would give telling someone how to get to your house, but the tacit is the little things you didn’t think to mention: the stop signs, the turn signals, watch out for bikers, etc. This is closer to Cowan’s definition than some other authors because (if you think about it) we do have words for those things. We can express the thoughts and ideas. There’s no mystic “what does that sign mean?” We don’t normally think about doing these things, but if we really wanted to we could break it down into step-by-step instructions. There is some tacit knowledge in driving – accounting for and reacting to other drivers, for example – but, again, though “feeling” the knowledge is a big part, we do have words for the actions we take.

This just makes me wonder if I was closer to Cowan et al’s definition all along and just didn’t realize it.

Words: 638

References:

Blackler, F. (1995). Knowledge, knowledge work and organizations: An overview and interpretation. Organization Studies, 16(6), 1021-1046. doi:10.1177/017084069501600605

Cowan, R., David, P. A., & Foray, D. (2000). The explicit economics of knowledge codification and tacitness. Industrial & Corporate Change, 9(2), 211-253.

Hara, N. (2009). Communities of practice: Fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the work place. Information Science and Knowledge Management (Vol. 13). Berlin: SpringerVerlag.

Szulanski, G. (1996). Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practices within the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17, 27-43. doi:10.1002/smj.4250171105

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3 thoughts on “Tacit and Explicit once more: Types of Knowledge and Knowing

  1. I like how you talk about the difference between book knowledge, cultural knowledge, and practical knowledge. I must say my first reaction about “book knowledge” was that I don’t think it applies to fiction 🙂 but I understood what was meant. I also like that you talk about explicit and tacit knowledge in a different way than what we have learned about in many articles.

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  2. Don’t think of Hara, Blackler, and Cowan or others as proposing different types of knowledge—rather, think of them as different facets of tacit and explicit knowledge. What we need to do, perhaps at a later time, is develop a taxonomy of this literature.

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    • In reflection, a great deal of the work we’ve done with these blogs has been oriented around the assimilation and interrelation of various conceptions of knowledge. On one hand I think that it would have been helpful for our immediate conception to have that sort of overarching framework of understanding, but I also think that in the long run we develop a deeper comprehension of what these types of knowledge fundamentally are when we’re forced to parse it with relatively little guidance.

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