2.2.5 Embodied knowledge

2.2.5 Embodied knowledge

            Embodied knowledge relates to routines, habits, tasks and information our bodies understand without conscious thought. Embodied knowledge is action oriented and is likely to be only partly explicit; Ryles (1949) called it ‘knowledge how’ and James (1950), ‘knowledge of acquaintance’. In contrast to embrained knowledge, it builds upon practical experience – doing –(Lam, 2000). It has a strong automatic and voluntaristic component and its generation and application does not need to be fitted into or processed through a conscious decision making schema (Spender 1996). Polani (1966) also focused on this practical nature of embodied knowledge.

            In their paper, Madhavan & Grover (1998) argue that embodied knowledge is the tangible new product that is developed because of the conversion of embedded knowledge. Describing embodied knowledge, Zuboff (1988) explains that it depends on people’s physical presence, on sentiment and sensory information, physical cues and face-to-face discussions. He continued that it is acquired by doing, and is rooted in specific contexts. He argued that understandings of machine systems are more important than their general knowledge. Collins (1993) gave an example of embodied knowledge referring to a professional tennis player, a large part of whose tennis-playing knowledge is embodied in his body, and thus impossible to articulate, let alone to transfer.

            Embodied knowledge is also context specific; it becomes relevant only in light of the problem in hand. Its generation cannot be separated from its application (Barley, 1996). It depends on abstract and its generation and application does not need to be fitted into or processed through a conscious decision making schema (Spender 1996). Other accounts of embodied knowledge include Scribner’s (1986) description of “practical thinking”, i.e problem-solving techniques which depend on an intimate knowledge of a situation rather than abstract rules and Hirschhorn’s (1984) analysis of mechanization and with the conclusions that operator’s tacit understanding of machine systems are more important than their general knowledge.