||Knowledge in the Age of Knowledge Work
Even this warning did not prepare Robyn for the shock
of the foundry. . . . Her first instinct was to cover
her ears, but she soon realised that it was not going
to get any quieter, and let her hands fall to her
sides. The floor was covered with a black substance
that looked like soot, but grated under the soles
of her boots like sand. The air reeked with a sulphurous,
resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell
on their heads from the roof. Here and there the open
doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the
far corner of the building what looked like a stream
of molten lava trickled down a curved channel from
roof to floor. . . . Everywhere there was indescribable
mess, dirt, disorder.
David Lodge, Nice Work,
Was David Lodge's 1988 novel simply behind the times
when it challenged its heroineRobyn Penrose, Temporary
Lecturer in English Literatureto confront the sooty
business managed by its hero, Vic Wilcox, product of a
Midlands technical college? Is this the utmost challenge
that Lodge can imagine for the contemporary academic sensibility:
to come to grips with the realism of "smokestack"
industrialism as it has appalled fiction since the nineteenth-century
industrial novel (Lodge's elaborate allusion) through
at least Sons and Lovers?
If so, then we can adequately attribute Lodge's comedy
to the slow, sly romance he builds between the academy
and industryto his deft dance of opposites that
at last issues, if not in a classically comic wedding,
then at least in the fleeting copulation of two faculties
of expertise divorced since Victorian sages presided over
the "idea of a university."
Or, on the other hand, should we allow Lodge's minor
prophets of the new world orderRobyn's investment-banker
brother, his financial-exchange-dealer consort, or (more
demonically) the "CNC" computer-numerical controlled
manufacturing machine in Vic's factoryto shift the
comedy into an altogether different register of satire?
Robyn's brother says cheekily while on holiday from financial
London: "Companies like [Vic's] are batting on a
losing wicket. . . . the future for our
economy is in service industries, and perhaps some hi-tech
engineering" (p. 128). Vic says sombrely as he and
Robyn stare across a Perspex pane at the CNC machine's
inhumanly "violent, yet controlled" motions,
"One day . . . there will be lightless
factories full of machines like that. . . .
Once you've built a fully computerised factory, you can
take out the lights, shut the door and leave it to make
engines or vacuum cleaners or whatever, all on its own
in the dark." "O brave new world," Robyn
responds (pp. 84-85).
To glimpse even peripherally such a brave new world order
is to recognize that Lodge's last, best jokeso cruel
that only his furiously contrived happy ending can salve
the bite of the satireis the obsolescence of the
entire, tired opposition between the academy and industry.
"Shadows" of each other, as the novel calls
them, Robyn and Vic both inhabit a twilight order on the
other side of the Perspexor more fittingly, computer
screenfrom true post-industrial night. That
night, which seems the dawning of a new enlightenment
in its own eyes, is Knowledge Work, the Aufhebung
of both academic "knowledge" and industrial
"We grew up in the Industrial Age," Thomas
A. Stewart writes in his recent Intellectual Capital:
The New Wealth of Organizations (1997),
It is gone, supplanted by the Information Age.
The economic world we are leaving was one whose
main sources of wealth were physical. The things
we bought and sold were, well, things; you could
touch them, smell them, kick their tires, slam their
doors and hear a satisfying thud. . . .
In this new era, wealth is the product of knowledge.
Knowledge and informationnot just scientific
knowledge, but news, advice, entertainment, communication,
serviceBhave become the economy's primary raw
materials and its most important products. Knowledge
is what we buy and sell. You can't smell it or touch
it. . . . The capital assets that
are needed to create wealth today are not land,
not physical labor, not machine tools and factories:
They are, instead, knowledge assets. (p. x) 
The clarion call of the new millennium is clear. Let
the academies have pure ideas. Let the Third World (represented
in Lodge's novel by the swarthy, immigrant underclass
who serve Vic's factory) have pure matter work. You,
the New Class destined to inherit the earth (or at least
cubicle); you who are endowed with the inalienable right
to process a spreadsheet, database, or reporthave
you counted your knowledge assets today?
But such is too facile a caricature of the age of Knowledge
Work. Just as Lodge's academic romance can be read in
different tones, so too can our contemporary romances
of Knowledge Work. I refer to the immensely influential
and best-selling works of fiction-blended-with-realismlet
us loosely call them "novels"by the Victorian
sages of our time: the management "gurus" (among
whom the just-cited Stewart is a late contender). The
mold for this genre, as John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
note in their survey, was set in 1982 by Tom Peters and
Robert Waterman's five-million-selling In Search of
Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies.
 But it is from the early 90s on that the
genre came into its own with the appearance of such works
of wide impact (to name just a premium selection) as Michael
Hammer and James Champy's Reengineering the Corporation,
Joseph H. Boyett and Henry P. Conn's Workplace 2000,
Robert M. Tomasko's Downsizing, William H. Davidow
and Michael S. Malone's The Virtual Corporation,
Peter M. Senge's The Fifth Discipline: The Art and
Practice of the Learning Organization, Don Tapscott's
The Digital Economy, Tom Peters' Liberation
Management, Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith's
The Wisdom of Teams, and Peter F. Drucker's Post-Capitalist
Society. "These books," Armand Mattelart
comments, "which enjoyed a transnational readership
far broader than just business executives, provided a
medium for the followers of the new business doctrine . . . ,"
"a veritable cult of enterprise, bordering on the
religious" (pp. 207, 208).
 And this is not even to mention the new
journalism of business that everywhere we lookin
newspapers, magazines, and TV newsamplifies the
dominant fictional realism of our times by rehearsing
the mantra of right-sizing, just-in-time, flat-structuring,
disintermediation, flexibility, team-work, lifelong learning,
diversity management, and (that ultimate arbiter of collective
fiction) shareholder value.
Inverting my questions about Lodge, we may pose the following
puzzles for the postindustrial business imagination.
On the one hand, is the new business literature simply
ahead of (rather than, as with Lodge, behind) the times
when it promises an age of business that is all information
processingor, more accurately (since durables and
consumables must still be produced), all an allegory
of information processing able to make plants, goods,
and people behave with the quick-turnaround responsiveness,
modular flexibility, and ultimate eraseability of bits?
Is the new business literature, in other words, what the
word "virtual" really means: "post-historical"?
"When someone asks us for a quick definition of business
reengineering," Hammer and Champy declare in their
Reengineering the Corporation, "we say it
means 'starting over.' It doesn't mean tinkering
with what already exists or making incremental changes
that leave basic structures intact" (p. 31). And
Peter Drucker, the dean of U.S. management theory, sums
it up: "Innovation," he says, "means, first,
the systematic sloughing off of yesterday."
 Society is a diskette to be reformatted.
Read virtually or post-historically in this way, we may
say, the business bestsellers are utopian prophecies of
what Michael Dertouzos calls What Will Be and Bill
Gates The Road Ahead (to cite two titles from the
affiliated genre of information-technology prophecy).
But, on the other hand, is the new business literature
so dystopian (pessimistic about the future where Lodge's
minor prophets are optimistic) that their real subject
is the impassability of history? Witness, for example,
the rhetorical dependence of the genre not just on broad
denunciations of traditional ways of living and working
but also on long catalogues of specific historical "obstacles."
"So, if managements want companies that are lean,
nimble, flexible, responsive, competitive, innovative,
efficient, customer-focused, and profitable," Hammer
and Champy ask, "why are so many American companies
bloated, clumsy, rigid, sluggish, noncompetitive, uncreative,
inefficient, disdainful of customer needs, and losing
money?" (p. 7). The answer is history: "Inflexibility,
unresponsiveness, the absence of customer focus, an obsession
with activity rather than result, bureaucratic paralysis,
lack of innovation, high overheadthese are the legacies
of one hundred years of American industrial leadership"
(pp. 10, 30). Similarly, we can take the measure of the
chapter in which Davidow and Malone's The Virtual Corporation
excoriates decadent old ways from this excerpt:
Here in the United States, [the] sense of distortion
and confusion, mixed with considerable fear, has
become an uncomfortable part of our daily lives.
Everywhere there is a disquieting sense of decayin
government, within boardrooms, on shop floors.
. . . .
. . . .
One by one our industries are losing competitiveness
and market share to industries of other nations.
Our government seems more concerned with lifelong
job security for politicians and spending money
it doesn't have than in enhancing the economic prosperity
of the citizenry. Our manufacturing sector often
insults consumers with shoddy products and workers
with unearned executive compensation‑and then
blames its woes on foreign competition. By the
same token, workers are frequently unmotivated
and selfish compared with their foreign counterparts;
and consumers have in the past replaced good sense
and security with almost pathological acquisitiveness.
Meanwhile, our major cities, once the jewels of
our culture, have become violent, ungovernable places
perpetually teetering on bankruptcy. (pp. 240-41)
And education, of course, comes in for special attention
as the very Pharoah of old ways. A plague on education,
Boyett and Conn thus say, or to be exact (citing the business
spokesmen they quote in their chapter on education): schools
are a "national disaster," "a third world
within our own country," "the American dream turned
nightmare," "the greatest threat to our national
security," and so on (pp. 267-68).
To emphasize such harsh, corrosive, often satiric denunciation,
we recognize, is to see that the new business literature
walks the dark side of the street (the "road ahead")
of prophecy. From this perspective, works in this genre
are fire-and-brimstone jeremiads damning sinners in the
hands of an angry global competition. Gurus are not seers
of the new millennium. They are witnesses to a damned
history that is everywhere and nowhere, present in every
manifest obstacle imposed by the past, yet profoundly
unknowable in the discourse of Knowledge Work except as
monstrous other. History is an imaginary Third Worlda
reservation for peoples who remain historicalcouched
within the First World itself. It is the other of the
I raise these questions of stance or tone about Lodge's
novel and the new literature of business not to suggest
that such questions can be decided within the present compass.
Indeed, the considerable vitality of both the novel and
the business works I cite depends on their undecidability.
Comedy or satire, prophecy or jeremiad: the underlying contradictions
glossed by these modes are structural. And, as such, they
are best approached in the spirit not of decision but of
suspense. We are on the scene, after all, of the abiding
suspense of the new middle class, which (to follow the lead
of "New Class" theory) is even more structurally
contradictory than the originary white-collar class earlier
in the twentieth century. 
To be a white-collar or "salaried"
worker in the 50's, for example, was to stake the entirety
of one's authority not on the self-owned property, business,
goods, or money of the predecessor entrepreneurial classes
of the nineteenth century but on an existentially anxious
capital of "knowledge" that had to be regenerated
from scratch by one's children. 
laid the foundation for the overdetermined relation between
business and education. But to be a professional-managerial-technical
worker now (as well as to some degree one of the clerical,
sales, and other workers bound to the New Class by the complex
code of "professionalism") is to stake one's authority
on an even more precarious "knowledge" that has
to be regenerated with every new technological change, business
cycle, or downsizing in one's own life. Thus is laid the
foundationless suspense, the perpetual anxiety, of Life-Long
So why do I raise these questions here if not to answer
them? For the limited purpose of arguing that the undecidability
of the relation between academic knowledge and knowledge
work now solicits from ourselves as scholars the very
opposite of the decisiveness heard so preemptivelyto
cite a conspicuous and near-to-hand examplein the
"Final Report of the MLA Committee on Professional
Employment" (PMLA, Oct. 1998).
However acute, consistent, or substantial the "Final
Report" may be (or not) in its recommendations for
the profession of the humanities in the age of knowledge
work (issues I do not take up here), I believe it is starkly
wrong in legitimating itself as follows in its striking
Preface on the corporatization of the university:
|. . . lawmakers call for greater productivity
on campus, and advisers trained in business management
counsel various forms of "downsizing."
In numerous instances, indeed, formal commissions,
college presidents, boards of trustees, and the media
have pressed for a new efficiency in higher education
based on corporate models in which students are defined
as "clients" or even "products"
and academic institutions are regarded as sites of
production. But of course the object of business
corporations is to make a profit, while the object
of institutions of higher education is to acquire
and disseminate knowledge as well as, most important,
to develop in students sophisticated intellectual
strategies they will use for the rest of their lives,
in and out of the workplace. (italics mine, pp. 1154-55)
What is wrong with this legitimation, of course, is the
"of course" that refuses at all costs to acknowledge
the complexity of the overlap between academic and business
knowledge work today. That "of course" is a
blindness of insight that has neither the virtue of truth
nor, at the least, of self-serving evasion. Rather, it
is as if in confronting the eternal dark of the computerized
factories that Lodge envisionsthrough that Perspex
panewe were ourselves to shut our eyes and add dark
to dark. For what we thus refuse to see, of course, is
the seriousness of the challenge to academic knowledge
posed by a "knowledge work" that has been redefinedas
per the magisterial inclusiveness of Fritz Machlup's and
Marc Uri Porat's accountings of knowledge-industry services
in the 60s and 70s (The Production and Distribution
of Knowledge in the United States and The Information
Economy, respectively)as both a practical and
intellectual pretender to our throne. In the academy,
of course, we have long been accustomed to accommodating
the practical logic of business as personified
comfortably and endogamously in those whom we love to
hate: "administrators." And, to follow the
lead of both the "Final Report" and the 1998
Presidential Forum series at MLA, we are just now thinking
about going exogamousi.e., asking business nicely
for work as part of a general enterprise of "going
 What is missing, however, is any serious
engagement with the full intellectual force of
business in its new persona as Knowledge Work. And without
such engagementas the Sixties, that creche of the
New Class, might have saidasking for nice work can
only be (and not very effectively at that) "selling
What I mean might be represented by a single passage
from the most uniquely influential and widely-cited gospel
of the new knowledge work, Peter Senge's 1990 The Fifth
Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.
This is how Senge defines his fifth, climactic discipline
of business change, "Metanoia--A Shift of Mind":
When you ask people about what it is like being
part of a great team, what is most striking is the
meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about
being part of something larger than themselves,
of being connected, of being generative. It becomes
quite clear that, for many, their experiences as
part of truly great teams stand out as singular
periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend
the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture
The most accurate word in Western culture to describe
what happens in a learning organization is one that
hasn't had much currency for the past several hundred
years. . . . The word is 'metanoia' and it means
a shift of mind. . . . For the Greeks, it meant
a fundamental shift or change, or more literally
transcendence . . . of mind. . . .
In the early (Gnostic) Christian tradition, it took
on a special meaning of awakening shared intuition
and direct knowing of the highest, of God. . . .
To grasp the meaning of 'metanoia' is to grasp
the deeper meaning of "learning". . . .
For an academic humanistand especially one like
myself originally learned in Wordsworth's The Prelude,
or Growth of the Poet's Mindthere is inexpressible
irony in the fact that the single most influential contemporary
visionary of the One Life and Imagination (as the Romantics
called it) should be a management guru. Senge, we recognize,
offers a whole scholarship of, and about, learning bypassing
academic methods of historical knowledge in favor of a
fantastic pastiche of classical, Christian, and (the real
school of his work) New Age lore. Of course, it would
be easy for me as a professional academic to demystify
Senge. It is more embarrassing to say that I am shamed
by contrast with the breadth and dare of his undecidably
intellectual/practical will to know what it might mean
Only if humanistic scholars today think about business
as an intellectual as well as practical partner
in the work of knowledge, it may be suggested, can the
really critical issues in the relation of the academy
to business be joined. For, asking business for nice
work can only not be "selling out" if
the academy now engages business in a full, reciprocal
act of critique in which it both gives and takes. Such
critique, I wish to close by urging, cannot even be initiated
if we do not elevate it to the proper level. I mean the
level where, first, we in the academy assume that the
academy and business have a common stake in Knowledge
Work and then, secondly, ask, "what then is
the difference?" What is the newand
not nineteenth-centurydifference between the academy
and the "learning organization"?
The crucial issues to be advanced at this level, I propose,
include at least the following nine:
1. What is the difference between, on the one hand,
academic poststructuralism, culturalism, and multiculturalism
and, on the other hand, the radically distributed,
"networked" model of knowledge now seen
in business in the form of "flat" organizations,
information networks, and diversity management?
2. What is the difference between "culture"
as the humanities now understands it and "corporate
3. What do humanities fields that are fundamentally
historical in definition (e.g., "literary history")
have to offer an age of "just-in-time"
and "Year 2000"?
4. Given the fact that the Dearing Report in the
U.K., the White Paper on Tertiary Education in New
Zealand, and university "corporatization"
in the U.S. all use the same language of "accountability"
and "quality" (in provocative conjunction
with the discourse of "access"), are higher
education and business "global" in the
same way? Especially worth study in this regard
is the fact that the major contemporary educational
reform initiatives are aggressively national (e.g.,
how New Zealand or U.S. higher education
must evolve to confront an era of global competition).
5. How does "information technology"
as an allegory for the future of the academy differ
from IT as an allegory for the new millennium of
business? For example, how does the academy's investment
in the "library" or "archive"
metaphor of knowledge inflect business's investment
in the "database" model? In general,
what are the long-range implications of the many
recent academic "partnerships" with IT
companies that have established channels of ingress
for the entire ethos of postindustrial business?
6. What is academic "intellectual property"
or "freedom of speech" in an age that
is devising new means of regulating the ownership/circulation
of knowledge work?
7. How does corporatization bear differentially
on public, as opposed to private, higher education
8. Given the paradigm of universal insecurity in
the contemporary business worldi.e., the "flexibility"
that makes not just "permatemp" blue-collar
and clerical but also professional-managerial-technical
workers subject to perennial restructuring, can
the MLA's present effort to elevate the status of
adjunct, part-time, and temporary instructors (as
per the report of the MLA Committee on Professional
Employment) be justified without advocating the
elimination of the outstanding discrepancy between
the academy and contemporary business: viz., tenure
(i.e., the exemption from restructuring of a middle-managerial
class whose jobs are definitionally different from
those of the adjunct, part-time, and temporary on
whom the burden of restructuring is now artificially
concentrated)? And if there is no such credible
justification, how might an intellectual safety
netwhich is not necessarily the same as a
job safety netbe instituted such that a redefined
"freedom of speech" and "intellectual
property" in the academy can be protected?
9. Given that contemporary business purports to
value critique as the necessary agent of change,
how might the kind of critical differences indicated
aboveembodied in the critical edge of graduate
students trained in the humanitiesbe offered
to business as something of distinct value?
Since mid century, we may pause to reflect, the U.S.
academy has increasingly understood its business to be
the education of "all"Bor at least as many of the all as a
relatively liberal notion of the white-collar middle class
(and its more recent New Class techno-managerial-professional
overlords) can accommodate. But now Knowledge Work has
called the academy's bluff. Here is a partial listing
of the areas of knowledge production that Machlup included
in his 1962 survey: Education (at home, on the job, in
church, in the armed services, elementary and secondary,
higher), Research and Development (basic, applied), Media
of Communication (printing and publishing, photography
and phonography, stage and cinema, broadcasting, advertising
and public relations, telephone, telegraph, and postal
service), Information Machines (instruments for measurement,
observation, and control; office information machines;
electronic computers); and Information Services (legal,
engineering and architectural, accounting and auditing,
medical, financial, wholesale trade). Now that knowledgein
its training, exercise, and possessionreally is
presumed to be the business of "all," and especially
of Business, how will be the academy adapt to its diminished
role as one among many providers in a potentially rich
and diversebut also just as potentially impoverished
and uniformecology of knowledge? What voice will
brave, dear Temporary Lecturer Robyn Penrose have in the
new world of Knowledge Work?
Boyett, Joseph H., and Henry P. Conn. Workplace 2000:
The Revolution Reshaping American Business. New York:
Plume / Penguin, 1992.
Davidow, William H., and Michael S. Malone. The Virtual
Corporation: Structuring and Revitalizing the Corporation
for the 21st Century. New York: HarperBusiness, HarperCollins,
Dertouzos, Michael L. What Will Be: How the New World
of Information Will Change Our Lives. San Francisco:
Drucker, Peter F. Managing in Turbulent Times.
New York: Harper & Row, 1980.
Drucker, Peter F. Post-Capitalist Society. New
York: HarperBusiness, HarperCollins, 1993.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, and John Ehrenreich. AThe Professional-Managerial
Class.@ Between Labor and Capital:
The Professional Managerial Class. Ed. Pat Walker.
Boston: South End, 1979
Employment, MLA Committee on Professional. AFinal Report of the MLA Committee
on Professional Employment.@
PMLA 113 (1998): 1154-77.
Florida, Martin Kenney and Richard. Beyond Mass Production:
The Japanese System and Its Transfer to the U.S. New
York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.
Frank, Thomas. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture,
Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. Chicago:
Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997.
Frow, John. Cultural Studies and Cultural Value.
Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995.
Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. rev. ed. New York:
Gouldner, Alvin W. The Future of Intellectuals and
the Rise of the New Class: A Frame of Reference, Theses,
Conjectures, Arguments, and an Historical Perspective
on the Role of Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in the
International Class Contest of the Modern Era. New
York: Seabury, 1979.
Hammer, Michael, and James Champy. Reengineering the
Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution.
New York: HarperBusiness, 1993.
Harris, Philip R., and Robert T. Moran. Managing Cultural
Differences: Leadership Strategies for a New World of
Business. 4th ed. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing,
Katzenbach, Jon R., and Douglas K. Smith. The Wisdom
of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization.
New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
Kelly, Kevin. New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical
Strategies for a Connected World. New York: Viking,
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. AThe Structural Study of Myth.@ Trans. Claire Jacobson and
Brooke Grundfest Schoepf. Structural Anthropology
New York: Basic, 1963. 206-31.
Liu, Alan. Palinurus: The Academy and the Corporation--Teaching
the Humanities in a Restructured World. 1998. Available:
Liu, Alan. Voice of the Shuttle: Web Page for Humanities
Research. Available: http://humanitas.ucsb.edu/
Lodge, David. Nice Work. 1988 rpt.; New York:
Machlup, Fritz. The Production and Distribution of
Knowledge in the United States. Princeton: Princeton
Univ. Press, 1962.
Mattelart, Armand. Mapping World Communications: War,
Progress, Culture. Trans. Susan Emanuel and James
A. Cohen. Minneapolis: U. Minnesota Press, 1994.
Micklethwait, John, and Adrian Wooldridge. The Witch
Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus. 1st
U.S. ed. New York: Times Books, 1996.
Mills, C. Wright. White Collar: The American Middle
Classes. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1956.
Peters, Tom. Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization
for the Nanosecond Nineties. New York: Fawcett Columbine,
Peters, Thomas J., and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. In
Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run
Companies. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
Porat, Marc Uri. The Information Economy: Development
and Measurement. 9 vols. Washington, D.C.: Office
of Telecommunications / U.S. Government Printing Office,
Ross, Andrew. A"Defenders
of the Faith and the New Class".@ No Respect: Intellectuals
and Popular Culture New York: Routledge, 1989. 209-32.
Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art &
Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday,
Stewart, Thomas A. Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth
of Organizations. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
Tapscott, Don. The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril
in the Age of Networked Intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill,
Tomasko, Robert M. Downsizing: Reshaping the Corporation
for the Future. rev. ed. New York: AMACOM, 1990.
Wright, Eric Olin. Class Structure and Income Determination.
New York: Academic, 1979.
This essay was originally delivered at the 1998 MLA
convention as part of the Presidential Forum events
organized by Elaine Showalter under the title (taken
from Lodge's novel) of "Nice Work." It was
subsequently published as "Knowledge in the Age
of Knowledge Work," Profession 1999: 113-24.
. I have compressed somewhat the scene with
the CNC machine. The full scene is complicated by gender
and class issues. The "uncanny, almost obscene"
movements of the machine (p. 85) thus link up allusively
to the "pornographic pin-ups" on the factory
walls that Robyn objects to on the previous page. And
with regard to class hierarchy, Robyn's full response
to the CNC machine is as follows: "O brave new
world, . . . where only the managing
directors have jobs."
 . Such observations
on the distinction between head-work and matter-work
are now commonplace. See, for example, Martin Kenney
and Richard Florida's 1993 Beyond Mass Production:
"Under past forms of industrial production, including
mass-production Fordism, much of work was physical. . . .
The emergence of digitization increases the importance
of abstract intelligence in production and thus requires
that workers actively undertake what were previously
thought of as intellectual activities. In this new
environment, workers are no longer covered with grease
and sweat, because the factory increasingly resembles
a laboratory for experimentation and technical advances"
(p. 54). Similarly, Kevin Kelly writes in his New
Rules for the New Economy:
The key premise of this book is that the principles
governing the world of the softthe world of intangibles,
of media, of software, and of serviceswill soon
command the world of the hardthe world of reality,
of atoms, of objects, of steel and oil, and the hard
work done by the sweat of brows. Iron and lumber will
obey the laws of software, automobiles will follow
the rules of networks, smokestacks will comply with
the decrees of knowledge. If you want to envision where
the future of your industry will be, imagine it as a
business built entirely around the soft, even if at
this point you see it based in the hard.
Of course, all the mouse clicks in the world can't
move atoms in real space without tapping real energy,
so there are limits to how far the soft will infiltrate
the hard. But the evidence everywhere indicates that
the hard world is irreversibly softening. (p. 2)
. For Micklethwait and Wooldridge's discussion
of In Search of Excellence in their The Witch
Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus, see
pp. 6, 49, 84-98. In Search of Excellence had
sold five million copies as of 1996.
. For the international reach of such business
literature and the American mode of management theory
it conveys, see Mickelthwait and Wooldridge, pp. 50-53.
Mickelthwait and Wooldridge note, "In a mammoth
pan-Asian survey of business people in 1995, roughly
half of the respondents has bought a book by a Western
management writer in the previous two years" (p.
53). The survey also found, however, that "nearly
the same proportion admitted that they had not finished
reading" their purchases. One might conjecture
on the basis of such statistics that the new business
literature has a status akin to "myth" in
Claude Lévi-Strauss's understanding as a discourse whose
meaning is not dependent on close attention to its language:
"Myth is language, functioning on an especially
high level where meaning succeeds practically at 'taking
off' from the linguistic ground on which it keeps on
rolling" ("The Structural Study of Myth,"
 . Peter F. Drucker, Managing
in Turbulent Times, p. 60. On the massive and early
influence of Drucker, who almost singlehandedly invented
management theory, see Micklethwait and Wooldridge,
Chap. 3 on "Peter Drucker: The Guru=s Guru."
 . I am indebted to
Christopher Newfield's book-in-progress on The Business
Future (and to discussions with him during his early
work on the book) for the concept of business "prophecy."
As regards information-technology
prophecies: though I refer only tangentially in this
essay to the "allegory" of information technology,
as I previously called it, I believe that the topic
is of remarkable interest in studying the overall convergence
between business and the academy. This is because information
technology amounts to an incompletely assimilated third
term in what is usually described as a binary problem.
While information technology is commonly coopted by
business to the point where it is indistinguishable
from the new "networked" business paradigms,
in other instances it projects variant or dissonant
paradigms of knowledge that neither business nor the
academy have yet fully comprehended. This is the topic
of my book-in-progress, currently titled The Laws
of Cool: The Cultural Life of Information.
. See also Boyett and Conn's Workplace
2000, which inventories "obstacles to self-management"
(pp. 240-44) and concludes by tracing them to the recalcitrance
of history: "many American workers have resisted . . .
because such team systems are so radically different
from what most Americans have known before" (241).
. Similarly, Don Tapscott's Digital Economy
says in essence to education, "let my people go."
"In the new economy," Tapscott observes, "learning
is too important to be left to the schools. . . .
[A]s knowledge becomes part of products, production,
services, and entertainment, the factory, the office,
and the home all become colleges" (p. 37). Thus
does learning shift away "from the formal schools
and universities" to "formal budgeted employee
education" on the model of Motorola U., Hewlett-Packard
U., Sun U., and so on. (pp. 199-200). In general, sustained
diatribes against education are so prevalent in the
new business literature as to be virtually a rhetorical
. On the "New Class," see for example,
Alvin W. Gouldner, Barbara and John Ehrenreich, Erik
Olin Wright, Andrew Ross, John Frow. I am influenced
here especially by Wright's formulation of "contradictory"
 . One of the most effective narratives
of the transition from the old, entrepreneurial middle
classes to the new, salaried white-collar classes in
America remains C. Wright Mills' White Collar.
 . A reference to the main Presidential
Forum event at the 1998 MLA convention ("Nice Work:
Going Public"), which addressed the present job
crisis in literary studies by featuring role models
for crossing from the academy to the media industries
and to novel-writing.
 . However, for an eye-opening study
of the internal dynamics and libertarian possibilities
of "selling out" in the Sixties, see Thomas
Frank's study of counter-cultural currents in the advertising
 . It was to encourage the exploration
of these and other issues that I created in 1998 my
new World Wide Web resource: Palinurus: The Academy
and the CorporationTeaching the
Humanities in a Restructured World (http://humanitas.ucsb.edu/liu/palinurus/).
Please see this site for an extensive bibliography of
print and online resources bearing on the relation between
the academy and business, reports on relevant controversies
(e.g., higher-education reform initiatives in New Zealand,
the U.K., and the U.S.), study questions, etc.
This essay was originally delivered at the 1998 MLA
convention as part of the Presidential Forum events
organized by Elaine Showalter under the title (taken
from Lodge's novel) of "Nice Work." It was
subsequently published as "Knowledge in the Age
of Knowledge Work," Profession 1999: 113-24.