Lorenz, Edward - Models of Cognition, the Contextualisation of Knowledge and Organisational Theory - - Models of Cognition and Organisational Theory

Lorenz, Edward - Models of Cognition, the Contextualisation of Knowledge and Organisational Theory -

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Models of Cognition and Organisational TheoryModels of Cognition, the Contextualisation of Knowledge and Organisational Theory1Edward LorenzCentre d’Etudes de l’Emploi29, promenade Michel Simon93166 Noisy-le-Grand, Francetel: (33) 1- 45.92.68.00fax: (33) 1-49.31.02.44e-mail: [email protected]Abstract:This paper examines the importance of cognitive foundations for theories of organisationalbehaviour. Three different conceptions of human cognition and reasoning are examined: theinformation processing, situated learning and cultural-historical perspectives. The papershows how each conception of cognition leads to a different understanding of organisationalroutines and organisational problem-solving, as well as to the adoption of a different empiricalmethodology for observing organisational behaviour and for testing hypotheses about thenature of routines and problem-solving. The paper argues that of the three approaches tohuman cognition, only the cultural-historical one gives rise to an understanding oforganisational knowledge as embedded within a wider cultural and institutional setting.1Journal of Management and Governance, 5(4), 20011
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Models of Cognition and Organisational Theory1. IntroductionThis paper examines the implications of different conceptions of human cognition for understanding processes of knowledge use and development within organisations.2It begins with an investigation of the two cognitive theories that in my view have had the most significant impact on the organisational behaviour literature: the information processing approach associated with Newell and Simon (1958, 1972), and the situated learning perspective, often associated with the work of Lave (1988) and Suchman (1987). The former was translated into the realm of organisational theory by Simon and March (1958) and Cyert and March (1962) and has been most fully developed in the contemporary research programme in computational organisational theory (COT) associated with such authors as Carley (1995) and Masuch (1992). The latter has been extended into the realm of organisational theory in research analysing organisational learning in terms of ‘communities of practice’ (Brown and Duguid, 1991; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Snyder, 1997; and Wenger, 1998a and 1998b). Following this exercise, I turn to the cultural-historical approach to cognition associated in theU.S. with the research activities of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at University of California-San Diego. Although this perspective on human knowledge and cognition and has not had a significant impact on the organisational behaviour literature, someof its implications for organisational issues, including processes of organisational learning, have been explored by Edwin Hutchins (1995).One reason for examining cognitive foundations has to do with theoretical cumulativeness. In the organisational behaviour and strategy literatures, use is made of various concepts pertaining to knowledge use and development: ‘single-loop vs. double-loop learning’, ‘mode 1 vs. mode 2 knowledge’, ‘tacit knowledge’ and ‘implicit knowledge’, ‘mental models’ and
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