Organising “Knowledge Transfers” between Dispersed Corporate Spaces

Simone Novello (Marketing and Sociology), 2006

This thesis is about the possibility of knowledge transfer between and within organisations. Many scholars have tried to explain why knowledge fails to move, circulate, or be re-used in other parts of an organisation. My research draws attention to significant emerging conditions, which make this a subject worthy of renewed interest. Having offered a critical analysis of the prevailing perspectives on knowledge transfer within firms – including those that focus on the “sender-receiver” model; those that deal with the codification and economics of knowledge, and those that take a “situated” view of learning and communities of practice – I develop an approach that proposes a radical re-conceptualisation of the conventional notion of knowledge transfer.

Using empirical data derived from a detailed study of two cases of corporate acquisition, both of which took place in the upstream oil and gas sector, I argue that so-called “knowledge transfer” has less to do with the movement of knowledge than with the co-alignment of existing practices which are already adjusted to the logics and characteristics of a particular business activity, task, or service.

My thesis conceptualises the re-use of knowledge in other parts of an organisation as a process that involves the connection and co-development of knowledge between existing domains of practice. Patterns of connection between contexts of action produce shared knowledge when tensions between infrastructures of knowledge which underlie the “absorptive capacity” (Cohen and Levinthal, 1990) of specialists are resolved. My analysis identifies different methods for integrating distinct areas of specialism and shows how the nature and evolution of these techniques relates to existing scientific and technological practices. On the basis of this work I outline new research questions and an approach to the study of the development of shared knowledge which combines perspectives from organisation studies, the geography of knowledge, and the sociology of science and technology. My findings suggest that firms have to develop more sophisticated understandings of the conditions and circumstances in which shared knowledge is formed and of the means and mechanisms through which practices might be connected.