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Cognitive and Practice-based Theories of Organisational Knowing and Learning: Incompatible or complementary?

By Nicholas Marshall


Cognitive and practice-based approaches to organisational knowledge and learning are typically portrayed as incommensurable, with the result that there has been little positive dialogue between the two traditions. This paper argues that the incompatibility of the two sets of approaches has been overstated and that there is actually much that each can learn from the other. Cognitive approaches, which have often been accused of offering an effectively individualised, static, and representationalist understanding of organisational knowledge, can benefit from taking on board the practice-based view of knowledge as historically, culturally, and socially situated. However, the paper also suggests that practice-based theories would do well to draw insights from cognitive approaches, particularly regarding the role of cognitive frameworks or schemata in guiding knowledge processes. Without this, practice-based theories struggle to offer a fully developed account of how practices are constituted, reproduced, and potentially transformed through the interplay between routine and reflective action. To provide an example of how cognitive and practice-based approaches can be integrated, the latter part of the paper offers an empirical illustration of how a team of consulting engineers represent and perform alternative schemas of project work through their day-to-day practices. This provides the opportunity to reflect on both the theoretical and methodological challenges of pursuing a rapprochement between practice-based theory and cognitive approaches to organisational knowledge and learning

Topics: N215 Change and Innovation, N213 Project management
Year: 2007
DOI identifier: 10.1177/1350507608093712
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.brighton.ac.uk:6781

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