2.2 Classification of Knowledge

2.2 Classification of Knowledge

            Over the centuries many attempts have been made to define knowledge. Researchers from different domains have viewed knowledge from their own perspective and tried to explore its various dimensions. This has resulted in numerous classifications and distinctions. For example, Alexander & Judy (1988) distinguish three type of knowledge: i) declarative, ii) procedural and iii) conditional. de Jong & Ferguson-Hessler (1996) further extended the types of knowledge by adding situational knowledge, conceptual knowledge and strategic knowledge. They also made a distinction between domain specific and general knowledge.  Whereas, on philosophical grounds, knowledge is classified in four distinct categories: i) logical, ii) semantic, iii) systemic, iv) empirical. Some researchers classify knowledge as i) personal, ii) procedural, iii) declarative or prepositional

            The classification of knowledge is a recurring theme in religious scholarship as well.  For example, in Islamic history, successive generations of Muslim scholars, from al-Kindi in the ninth century to Shah Waliallah of Delhi in the eighteenth century, have devoted considerable efforts to the exposition of this theme. The lives and the ideas of the three thinkers discussed in Classification of Knowledge in Islam —al-Farabi (870–950 AD), al-Ghazzali (1058–1111 AD) and Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (1236–1311 AD) —cover the pivotal period of Islamic history from the first flourishing of the philosophical sciences to the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols. Similarly, scholars from other religions like Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. have also contributed their shares in this debat. It is obvious from this discussion that the classification of knowledge is a multifaceted and complex topic. Nevertheless, in this book we will follow Knowledge Management track.

            The debate of knowledge classification is not over yet. Some researcher gone one step further and introduce knowledge classification with respect to qualities of knowledge. de Jong (de Jong & Ferguson-Hessler, 1996) identifies several different qualities of knowledge; the one which is most useful in the present discussion is the depth of knowledge. "Depth of knowledge" refers to the extent that knowledge is “firmly anchored in a person’s knowledge base and external information has been translated to basic concepts, principles, or procedures from the domain in question” (de Jong & Ferguson-Hessler, 1996, p. 107). The dimensions of depth of knowledge are surface (superficial) versus deep, with the implication that surface is poor and deep is good (Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reimann, & Glaser, 1989; Ericsson & Charness, 1994). Deep-level knowledge is associated with comprehension and abstraction and with critical judgement and evaluation (de Jong & Ferguson-Hessler, 1996). Deep-level knowledge has been structured and stored in memory in a way that makes it maximally useful for the performance of tasks, while surface-level knowledge is associated with rote learning, reproduction, and trial and error (Glaser, 1991).

            By and large KM community has mainly defined two distinct types of knowledge - namely explicit and tacit knowledge. The former refers to codified knowledge, such as that found in documents, while the latter refers to non-codified and often personal/experience-based knowledge. This concept has been introduced and developed by Nonaka in the 90's (e.g. Nonaka, 1994) and remains a theoretical cornerstone of KM discipline.

            Explaining the relationship between both types of knowledge, Botha et. al. (2008) argue that tacit and explicit knowledge should be seen as a spectrum rather than as definitive points. In practice, all knowledge is a mixture of tacit and explicit elements rather than being one or the other. However, some researchers make a further distinction and talk of embedded knowledge which resides in systemic routines. The notion of 'embeddedness' was introduced by Granovetter (1985), who proposed a theory of economic action that, he intended, would neither be heavily dependent on the notion of culture (i.e. be 'oversocialized') nor heavily dependent on theories of the market (i.e. be 'under-socialized'): his idea was that economic behaviour is intimately related to social and institutional arrangements. Later, Badaracco (1991), explores the notion of embedded knowledge within the context of individuals relationships and material resources. Blackler (1995) expands on a categorization of knowledge types that were suggested by Collins (1993), being: embrained, embodied, encultured, embedded and encoded.

            In above paragraphs we have discussed about various approaches discussed in literature about the classification of knowledge. However, in forthcoming sections we will review above discussed categories within the knowledge management prospective.