The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management publishes original articles on topics relevant to studying, implementing, measuring and managing knowledge management and intellectual capital.

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Journal Issue
Volume 7 Issue 3 / Jun 2009  pp297‑397

Editor: Dan Remenyi

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Faculty Perceptions of Business Communication Skills and Needs of Management Students  pp297‑312

Shailja Agarwal, Jaya Chintranshi

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Knowledge Sharing in Academic Institutions: a Study of Multimedia University Malaysia  pp313‑324


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Organisational Knowledge Base and Knowledge Transfer in the Shipping Industry  pp325‑340

Jiangang Fei, Solomon Chen, Shu-Ling Chen

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Leveraging Knowledge Understanding in Documents  pp341‑352

Moria Levy

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Knowledge Management Model for Information Technology Support Service  pp353‑367

Maria Mvungiand Ian Jay

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Situated, Embodied Human Interaction and its Implications for Context Building in Knowledge Mobilisation Design  pp368‑377

Erkki Patokorpi

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Power, Discursive Practices and the Construction of the "Real"  pp378‑387

Alketa Peci, Marcelo Vieira

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Pluralism in Knowledge Management: a Review  pp388‑397

James Sheffield

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The purpose of this article is to review the role of simultaneous application of multiple perspectives, or pluralism, in knowledge management, and to describe theoretical frameworks that support pluralism. Pluralism is defined as support for all three of the systems perspectives — hard, soft, and critical — that are implicit in the popular Davenport and Prusak (1998) definition of knowledge. These perspectives are associated with research paradigms (positivist, interpretivist, pluralist) and knowledge perspectives (application, normalization, creation). A case study of coordinating work in a hospital is reviewed to illustrate the role played by pluralistic approaches in knowledge management. A literature search is conducted to find frameworks that support pluralism. The findings are as follow. In the hospital case study the introduction of a patient record system (hard system) was the occasion for changes to both coordination (soft systems) and power relations (critical systems). Facts, norms and feelings are intertwined. While the electronic tool by itself is neutral in the face of power relations, its use in organisations is not. In this case at least, a holistic and pluralistic approach to knowledge management is required. In the search for frameworks to support pluralism, more than 50 frameworks from the general knowledge management literature are identified. Of the eight selected for further study, three are found to be pluralistic. These three — critical systems, scientific discourses, and Habermasian inquiry — share common characteristics. All three recognise that conflict is the precondition to knowledge creation, and that power relations, value commitments, and ethics are central to knowledge management. It is concluded that the knowledge management literature as a whole favours a single systems perspective (hard systems); a single research paradigm (positivism, focusing on objective facts); and a single knowledge management domain (knowledge application). This singular (non‑pluralistic) approach produces theories about knowledge that has already emerged. Yet the Davenport and Prusak (1998) definition of knowledge and the hospital case study include two other perspectives — soft systems and critical systems — that focus on the organizational and individual aspects of emergence, respectively. In practice, knowledge management must address the need to simultaneously solve technical problems, resolve interpersonal issues, and dissolve personal conflict. The contribution of the paper is the comparison of knowledge management frameworks on the basis of underlying system perspectives, and the identification, description, and application of some pluralistic frameworks. Each systems perspective constitutes a different discourse on the purposes served by knowledge management, and pluralisms are required to integrate them. Pluralisms constitute both a framework for inquiry in knowledge management and a design theory for collaborative technologies. The review is not exhaustive. It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine the link between the purposes served by knowledge management and the methodology required for development. The paper contributes to the literature that seeks to understand the complexity of knowledge management practice via 'awareness of the potential and the implications of the different discourses in the study of knowledge and knowledge management.' 


Keywords: critical systems, foundational theory, Habermasian inquiry, knowledge management, multiple perspectives, power relations, pluralism, scientific discourses, theoretical frameworks


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