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The rhetoric of “knowledge hoarding”: a research-based critique

Clive Trusson (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Donald Hislop (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Neil F. Doherty (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 9 October 2017




This paper responds to a recent trend towards reifying “knowledge hoarding” for purposes of quantitative/deductive research, via a study of information technology (IT) service professionals. A “rhetorical theory” lens is applied to reconsider “knowledge hoarding” as a value-laden rhetoric that directs managers towards addressing assumed worker dysfunctionality.


A qualitative study of practicing IT service professionals (assumed within IT service management “best practice” to be inclined to hoard knowledge) was conducted over a 34-day period. Twenty workers were closely observed processing IT service incidents, and 26 workers were interviewed about knowledge-sharing practices.


The study found that IT service practice is characterized more by pro-social collegiality in sharing knowledge/know-how than by self-interested strategic knowledge concealment.

Research limitations/implications

The study concerns a single occupational context. The study indicates that deductive research that reifies “knowledge hoarding” as a naturally occurring phenomenon is flawed, with clear implications for future research.

Practical implications

The study suggests that management concern for productivity might be redirected away from addressing assumed knowledge-hoarding behaviour and towards encouraging knowledge sharing via social interaction in the workplace.


Previous studies have not directly examined the concept of knowledge hoarding using qualitative methods, nor have they considered it as a rhetorical device.



In January 2017, Neil F. Doherty (1959-2017) passed away. His co-authors deeply miss his academic insightfulness, but above that his humour, kindness and friendship.


Trusson, C., Hislop, D. and Doherty, N.F. (2017), "The rhetoric of “knowledge hoarding”: a research-based critique", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 1540-1558.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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