Somatic and cultural knowledge: drivers of a habitus-driven model of tacit knowledge acquisition

Hui Chen (School of Information Management, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, China)
Jose Miguel Baptista Nunes (School of Information Management, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China)
Gillian Ragsdell (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Xiaomi An (School of Information Resources Management, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China) (Key Laboratory of Data Engineering and Knowledge Engineering of the Ministry of Education, Beijing, China)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 9 September 2019



The purpose of this paper is to identify and explain the role of individual learning and development in acquiring tacit knowledge in the context of the inexorable and intense continuous change (technological and otherwise) that characterizes our society today, and also to investigate the software (SW) sector, which is at the core of contemporary continuous change and is a paradigm of effective and intrinsic knowledge sharing (KS). This makes the SW sector unique and different from others where KS is so hard to implement.


The study employed an inductive qualitative approach based on a multi-case study approach, composed of three successful SW companies in China. These companies are representative of the fabric of the sector, namely a small- and medium-sized enterprise, a large private company and a large state-owned enterprise. The fieldwork included 44 participants who were interviewed using a semi-structured script. The interview data were coded and interpreted following the Straussian grounded theory pattern of open coding, axial coding and selective coding. The process of interviewing was stopped when theoretical saturation was achieved after a careful process of theoretical sampling.


The findings of this research suggest that individual learning and development are deemed to be the fundamental feature for professional success and survival in the continuously changing environment of the SW industry today. However, individual learning was described by the participants as much more than a mere individual process. It involves a collective and participatory effort within the organization and the sector as a whole, and a KS process that transcends organizational, cultural and national borders. Individuals in particular are mostly motivated by the pressing need to face and adapt to the dynamic and changeable environments of today’s digital society that is led by the sector. Software practitioners are continuously in need of learning, refreshing and accumulating tacit knowledge, partly because it is required by their companies, but also due to a sound awareness of continuous technical and technological changes that seem only to increase with the advances of information technology. This led to a clear theoretical understanding that the continuous change that faces the sector has led to individual acquisition of culture and somatic knowledge that in turn lay the foundation for not only the awareness of the need for continuous individual professional development but also for the creation of habitus related to KS and continuous learning.


The study reported in this paper shows that there is a theoretical link between the existence of conducive organizational and sector-wide somatic and cultural knowledge, and the success of KS practices that lead to individual learning and development. Therefore, the theory proposed suggests that somatic and cultural knowledge are crucial drivers for the creation of habitus of individual tacit knowledge acquisition. The paper further proposes a habitus-driven individual development (HDID) Theoretical Model that can be of use to both academics and practitioners interested in fostering and developing processes of KS and individual development in knowledge-intensive organizations.



Chen, H., Nunes, J., Ragsdell, G. and An, X. (2019), "Somatic and cultural knowledge: drivers of a habitus-driven model of tacit knowledge acquisition", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 5, pp. 927-953.

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