A Conceptual Perspective on Knowledge Management and Boundary Spanning: Knowledge, Boundaries and Commons

  • Léo Joubert
  • Claude Paraponaris


Boundaries and their transcendence have become a major discussion topic in fields involved in the creation of value in Western economies. Quite often assimilated with physical and cultural limits, boundaries are presented as obstacles to entrepreneurial achievement. An entrepreneurial ability that unfolds in different fields, the economy of course, but also cultural activities, notably through a revolution of usages facilitated with internet business platforms. It seems relevant to us to compare how commercial and non-commercial activities process information and accumulate knowledge.

Boundaries must be crossed in order to diffuse knowledge and create innovation. But boundaries also act as a protection for scientific, technical and cultural organisations and institutions. Boundaries are multiple and, in principle, objective between projects, organisations, types of knowledge, scientific disciplines and of course between the various actors. But are they really all that objective?

The succession of approaches towards knowledge management has a history (Snowden, J Knowl Manag 6(2):100–111, 2002). A genealogy of the concepts and their success is available, testifying to the plasticity of knowledge boundaries. In this sense, our analysis presents boundaries as a construct that enables associating as much as separating.

We begin by presenting a genealogy of the major concepts in the field of knowledge dissemination. We lay down the various terms that refer to knowledge boundaries, insisting, in particular, on the persistent misunderstanding about how the learning process leads to knowledge. This conceptual framework helps us distinguish two functions of a boundary—separation and elaboration. We will then go on to develop this distinction for commercial organisations, and thirdly for non-commercial organisations such as Wikipedia.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Léo Joubert
    • 1
  • Claude Paraponaris
    • 1
  1. 1.Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, LESTAix-en-ProvenceFrance

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