Philosophy of Management

Volume 13, Issue 2, 2014

Concrete Abstractions

Claudia Gillberg, Linh Chi Vo
Pages 33-51

Contributions from Pragmatist Perspectives towards an Understanding of Knowledge and Learning in Organisations

The purpose of this article is to present an understanding of knowledge and learning in organisations from pragmatist perspectives. Relying on the work of early pragmatists as well as contemporary pragmatists, we introduce a conceptualisation of knowledge as the outcome of inquiry. Knowledge, in this article, is presented as provisional, multi-perspective, both particular and general. Our point of departure here is that the chief value of knowledge is its usefulness in solving problems. Pragmatist views of knowledge are further explicated in our discussion of four pragmatist themes, which we have identified as particularly viable on the basis of Jane Addams’ pragmatist view and the practice of democracy in organised life: 1) Knowledge as transactional in organisations, 2) Reciprocity and learning in organisations, 3) Experience-based knowledge and meaning-making in organisations, and 4) Sustainability as an ongoing, democratic process in organisations. In the pragmatist school of thought we draw upon, a predominant issue is always also the very purpose of knowledge, or what we refer to as ‘usefulness’. Under discussion, we argue that a pragmatist understanding of knowledge and learning in organisations allows us to move beyond the polarisation of cognitive-possession – social-process and instead work from an alternative framework, with a focus on processes of learning and knowledge in organisations that aim at integrative, democratic problem solving.