Of knowledge and work
The idea of the knowledge economy has brought with it a new paradigm of work that espouses the professionalization of all work. This new paradigm is now affecting the organization of work throughout the economy. However, not all work is knowledge work, whatever definition is used. The number of 'professionals' may rise, but many workers still face rather traditional working conditions. Moreover, we argue, the expected growth in the share of knowledge work may be less than expected: along with the forces pushing for an increase in knowledge work, there are also forces counteracting these. We develop a simple typology of work that takes autonomy and frequency of external contacts as dimensions. Workplaces with high autonomy and frequent external contacts (with customers and other stakeholders) are considered 'paradigmatic' for knowledge work. Using data from the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), we analyze the distribution of the European workforce across different types of work. Analysis of EWCS data (1995, 2000, 2005) shows that 'paradigmatic' knowledge work is actually shrinking. We offer a first, tentative explanation of this remarkable trend.
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