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Ignorant theories and knowledgeable workers: interrogating the connections between knowledge, skills and services

Thompson, P. and Warhurst, C. and Callaghan, G. (2001) Ignorant theories and knowledgeable workers: interrogating the connections between knowledge, skills and services. Journal of Management Studies, 38 (7). pp. 923-942. ISSN 0022-2380

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Abstract

This article builds on recent critiques of the knowledge economy to argue that key growth areas in future employment will be in low level service jobs rather than knowledge work as currently understood. The article discusses the knowledge, skills and competencies involved in interactive service work. It suggests that knowledge which is contextual, social or tacit has been taken to be of lesser value in relation to competitive advantage. It highlights the contrast, therefore, between the growth in interactive service work and the focus of the knowledge management literature on a small sub-set of total employment. Two case-studies of interactive service work, one drawn from a range of service sectors and the other from a call-centre setting, provide empirical material which highlights the skills required by em-ployers in this area. Technical skills were seen as less important than aesthetic and social skills. These cases highlight the management of social skills and competencies as critical to interactive service work. Workers need to develop an understanding of themselves that allows them to consciously use their emotions and corporeality to influence the quality of the service. This leads to the conclusion that the interactive service sector should not be conflated with knowledge work. Rather, it is more important to focus on the broader need for knowledgeability in work, and so broaden understanding of labour in the contemporary workplace.