The rhetoric of ‘knowledge hoarding’: a research-based critique

Purpose - Via a study of IT service professionals, this article responds to a recent trend towards reifying ‘knowledge hoarding’ for purposes of quantitative/deductive research. A ‘rhetorical theory’ lens is applied to reconsider ‘knowledge hoarding’ as a value-laden rhetoric that directs managers towards addressing assumed worker dysfunctionality. Design/methodology/approach - A qualitative study of practicing IT service professionals (assumed within IT service management ‘best practice’ to be inclined to hoard knowledge) was conducted over a 34 day period. 20 workers were closely observed processing IT service incidents and 26 workers were interviewed about knowledge sharing practices. Findings - The study found that the character of IT service practice is more one of pro-social collegiality in sharing knowledge/know-how than one of self-interested strategic knowledge concealment. Research limitations/implications - The study concerns a single occupational context. The study indicates that deductive research that reifies ‘knowledge hoarding’ as a naturally-occurring phenomenon is flawed, with clear implications for future research. Practical implications - The study suggests that management concern for productivity might be redirected away from addressing assumed knowledge hoarding behaviour and towards encouraging knowledge sharing via social interaction in the workplace. Originality/value - Previous studies have not directly examined the concept of knowledge hoarding using qualitative methods, nor have they considered it as a rhetorical device.