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Tacit and Explicit Knowledge Hardcover – June 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Tacit and Explicit Knowledge is an exceptional book. With a perfect blend of erudition, wit, and comprehensiveness, Collins succeeds in clearing up long-standing confusion about what tacit and explicit knowledge are and how they relate. His uncanny aptitude for selecting powerfully resonant examples and inventing memorable concepts should be sufficient to ensure that this text will be at the center of lively conversation among and between academics and industry leaders for some time to come.”

(Evan Selinger, Rochester Institute of Technology)

“Harry Collins is the world’s premier authority on tacit knowledge. This fine new book clarifies the concept in vital ways and is a crucial contribution to our understanding of it.”

(Donald MacKenzie, Edinburgh University)

“In this book, Harry Collins applies his usual intellectual rigor to the question of tacit knowledge, a topic that has puzzled scholars for many years. Combining insights from sociological studies of scientific work with numerous, illustrative real-world examples, Collins carefully shows how what we label as tacit knowledge actually consists of three, often interlinked, elements: relational, somatic, and collective tacit knowledge. Of particular importance for management scholars is his insight that collective tacit knowledge (based on people and their living language) can only be acquired through socialization, which, in the context of business, means that if you want to make money from other businesses’ ideas, you need long-term access to their people, not just their plans or formulas.”

(Edgar A. Whitley, London School of Economics and Political Science)

“Ever since Michael Polanyi first coined the term, tacit knowledge has been rather mysterious; although now much in vogue in business schools and the social sciences more generally, it is often used in a confusing variety of different ways. It is also hard to show convincingly the presence of tacit knowledge in empirical studies since by definition it is a negative—defined by our inability to explicate it. In this profound and carefully worked-through book, leading sociologist of science Harry Collins neatly turns Polanyi on his head by showing us that the really deep mystery is how knowledge ever becomes explicit in the first place. Rich with examples including the classic ‘riding a bicycle,’ Collins teases out three different meanings of tacit knowledge.”

(Trevor Pinch, Cornell University)

“Tacit knowledge is one of the most important concepts of current scholarship in the humanities. Ambitious and important, Tacit and Explicit Knowledge is a well-written and original book.”

(Robert P. Crease, Stony Brook University)

“This analysis of knowledge and its transmission is important and will shape conversation about knowledge and expertise for some time to come.”

(J. L. Croissant, University of Arizona Choice)

“This is an exceptionally well-written book. . . . Collins fundamentally redefines one of the central puzzles in the philosophy and sociology of knowledge by turning the classic problem of tacit knowledge on its head.”
(Wiebe E. Bijker Technology and Culture)

About the Author

Harry Collins is a Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science at Cardiff University.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226113809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226113807
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,173,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By James P. Trevelyan on September 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An interesting book that attempts to explain the differences between explicit and tacit knowledge in formal philosophical terms. The author is a social scientist and he draws on his studies of science so I suspect the text is not quite as formal as a philosopher might require. As a researcher interested in technical occupations I found it more interesting than I expected and well worth the modest price.
His basic notion is that explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be represented as a string and passed through an intermediary (such as the Internet) without any loss of information. A string is a general term to represent characters, numbers, computer codes etc. The book is a fascinating exploration of the differences between human and artificial intelligence and links together many of the interesting experiments (both thought and actual) that have been published in the last 50 years.
He introduces some very interesting ideas. For example, the degree to which tacit knowledge is required to understand strings, even compose them in the first place.
He revisits Michael Polanyi's discussion on riding bicycles with the notion of somatic tacit knowledge, knowledge that becomes part of our body for the performance of mechanical tasks. He argues that this can be reduced to mechanical instructions, even though these instructions could not reasonably be performed by human in the required timescale. What attracted my attention was a footnote in which he dismisses actor network theory as "the so-called actor network theory has succeeded brilliantly in the academic market place by cleverly failing to acknowledge this obvious asymmetry and claiming that its absence from the theory represents a philosophical insight.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Clint Aust Centre on December 22, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The training industry is filled with 99% of useless factoids that sound great but produce useless results (Maybe a slight exaggeration). Having been in the training industry for 35 years I knew that most of what we do is at best fillers and not all that helpful. But the gems - when training happens well, it is live changing. The trouble is how to consistently get the life changing results - that was a real puzzle. Then along comes Tacit and Explicit knowledge and the light goes on. This is not the only book on topic, but is an excellent start. It openned my eyes (Brain) and now I am hungry for more information.

Explicit knowledge is easily taught skills that are specifc and goal directed, but the elements of explicit knowledge are isolated and don't necessarily lead to a deep understanding of a topic. Whereas Tacit knowledge is far harder to pick up, almost needs to be learnt from a master, but is far more powerful and integrated when it is learnt. For example, basic welding can be broken down into explicit training elements and is learnt easily by most people, but building a sculptural piece out of steel that contributes to the world of creativity can not be broken down and takes many years of trial and error and a much furrowed brow.

What this book does well: it is a very readable and steps through the history of the development and study of tacit knowledge. It builds up the differences between explicit and tacit knowledge in incremental steps. It also provides a dsicussion of some alternates to the dicotic view of knowledge.

While not addressed directly this book explains the reason for the failure of most internet based education in that they attempt to address tacit ideas whereas the media it is better suited to present explicit learning.
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