This paper aims to use critical theorist Jürgen Habermas’s conceptualization of the relationship between knowledge and interests to better understand the role of common and competing interests during organizational learning.
The paper draws on critical accounts of work and learning, and on Habermas’s theoretical work on knowledge and interests, to examine the relationship between interests and organizational learning and, in particular, to consider conflict of interest’s role in organizational learning.
Transposed to organizational level, Habermas’s conceptualization of the relationship between knowledge and interests suggests that organizational learning can result from a technical interest, shaped by money and power, and from tensions and incompatibilities between the system’s technical interest and the lifeworld’s practical and emancipatory interests. There is ample evidence that the first combination does indeed account for a great deal of organizational learning but to date, very little scholarly attention has considered the possibility of organizational learning resulting from the second combination.
Despite interests and interest differences being visible in a number of studies of learning by individuals at work, the relationship between interests and learning at the organizational level is not well understood. This paper is a contribution to this area, using Habermas’s conceptualization of knowledge and interests to better understand the role of interests during organizational learning, raising the possibility that competing interests can result in organizational learning, and suggesting areas for further research.
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