emlyon business school
Bureaucratizing Knowledge, Work & Knowledge Work: How Formal Organization Structures and Regulates Work in Aeronautical Product Development
In this paper, I explore the link between bureaucracy and knowledge work. More specifically, I show how a variety of formal organization mechanisms ‘bureaucratize’ what counts as knowledge, the functional work of specialists, and their work across expertise domains in aeronautical product development. While, organization and management scholars have explored knowledge work and its related challenges considerably in terms of its enablers, barriers, conditions, and consequences, this literature has been for the most part indifferent to the formal organizational dimension in which — and through which — knowledge work may unfold. Conversely, this paper shows that the formal organizational context shapes expertise and the work of experts in non-negligible ways and that bureaucratic organizing may not only underpin horizontal work across expertise domains but actually enable it. I draw on empirical materials collected in a 15-month ethnography in the engineering unit of a major aerospace firm, and an approach to bureaucracy inspired by practice-based studies. The paper brings three critical contributions to organizational scholarship. First, it contributes to studies on knowledge and expertise by showcasing that formal organization has a ‘performative’ value in such dynamics. Second, the paper evidences how bureaucracy may serve as an infrastructure for knowledge work across expertise domains. This challenges the idea that knowledge work happens despite bureaucracy and positions that it may occur because of it. Third, it advances an understanding of bureaucracy that is more attentive to the locus and instruments through which it operates.