Tacit and Explicit Knowledge
Much of what humans know we cannot say. And much of what we do we cannot describe. For example, how do we know how to ride a bike when we can’t explain how we do it? Abilities like this were called “tacit knowledge” by physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi, but here Harry Collins analyzes the term, and the behavior, in much greater detail, often departing from Polanyi’s treatment.
In Tacit and Explicit Knowledge, Collins develops a common conceptual language to bridge the concept’s disparate domains by explaining explicit knowledge and classifying tacit knowledge. Collins then teases apart the three very different meanings, which, until now, all fell under the umbrella of Polanyi’s term: relational tacit knowledge (things we could describe in principle if someone put effort into describing them), somatic tacit knowledge (things our bodies can do but we cannot describe how, like balancing on a bike), and collective tacit knowledge (knowledge we draw that is the property of society, such as the rules for language). Thus, bicycle riding consists of some somatic tacit knowledge and some collective tacit knowledge, such as the knowledge that allows us to navigate in traffic. The intermixing of the three kinds of tacit knowledge has led to confusion in the past; Collins’s book will at last unravel the complexities of the idea.
Tacit knowledge drives everything from language, science, education, and management to sport, bicycle riding, art, and our interaction with technology. In Collins’s able hands, it also functions at last as a framework for understanding human behavior in a range of disciplines.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“This analysis of knowledge and its transmission is important and will shape conversation about knowledge and expertise for some time to come.”
Introduction. The Idea of Tacit Knowledge depends on Explicit Knowledge!
Part I. The Explicit
One. Strings and Things
Two. Digital Strings, Analogue Strings, Affordance, and Causes
Three. Explicable Knowledge
Part II. Tacit Knowledge
Four. Relational Tacit Knowledge
Five. Somatic Tacit Knowledge
Six. Collective Tacit Knowledge and Social Cartesianism
Part III. Looking Backward and Looking Forward
Seven. A Brief Look Back
Eight. Mapping the Three Phase Model of Tacit Knowledge
Appendix 1. An “Action Survey”
Appendix 2. What Has Changed since the 1970s