Tacitness & Shared Meaning


“In all our waking moments we are relying on our awareness of contacts of our body with things outside for attending to these things. Our own body is the only thing in the world which we normally never experience as an object, but experience always in terms of the world to which we are attending from our body. It is by making this intelligent use of our body that we feel it to be our body, and not a thing outside.” (Polanyi, 1969, p. 16)

This excerpt, like many others in Polanyi’s The Tacit Dimension, tends to prompt stepping a bit outside your comfort zone to consider implicit and explicit knowing. I agree with Mary, who recommends a piecemeal approach to Polanyi’s text. Kimble’s (2013) unpacking of tacit knowledge is helpful in connecting Polanyi’s ideas to present reality. Perhaps the strongest connection is a critical view of positivist ideas. There exists a divide among researchers who agree to disagree about the researcher’s role in research. As social scientists, are we separated from our subjects?

I believe that a researcher is an instrument, no matter how much we try to remove ourselves from the discovery of knowledge. In both qualitative and quantitative studies, my personal interpretation is salient in my discussion of findings. I agree that knowing is a marriage of the tacit and explicit. Although I do not personally like to be ascribed to a certain “camp”, I assume you would describe me as a constructivist or an interpretivist.

I am still finding my way in the scholarly world, and recently I engaged in discussion with those embarking on similar decision-making for qualitative methods. To answer burning questions regarding sample size in qualitative research, Baker and Edwards (2012) reviewed the “tacit knowledge of a series of renowned social scientists who come from a range of epistemological and disciplinary positions but who share an expertise in qualitative research” (p. 3). This research fueled Fugard and Potts (2015) development of a quantitative tool to aid in study planning. It seems clear that the tacit has epistemic value for improving research methods and subsequent knowledge management.

Big Ts and little ts aside, if you are unable to express knowledge, does it exist? I believe Polanyi is correct in supporting both proximal and distal knowledge. Following the dense reading of Polanyi’s work, I did some searching for extensions of the ideas he presented in the sixties. I found interesting points from Haldin-Herrgard, who describes the epitomes of tacit knowledge with the help of an iceberg-style illustration. These epitomes include intuition, skills, insight, know-how, beliefs, mental models, and practical intelligence – all of which are placed on a spectrum of the extent of abstraction and the activities they affect. It is interesting to see know-how described as tacit knowledge.

My husband is quite the handyman – a bricoleur of sorts. His tacit knowledge abounds as he takes on projects without prior experience with the specific task at hand. I watch as he turns the distal into proximal, the tacit to the explicit, as he explains to me how he installed our attractive security lights onto the outside of our garage. This know-how exists, creates shared meaning, and lights my path through the snowy driveway to my car.


Baker, S. E., & Edwards, R. (2012). How many qualitative interviews is enough? Expert voices and early career reflections on sampling and cases in qualitative research. Retrieved from http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/2273/

Fugard, A. J., & Potts, H. W. (2015). Supporting thinking on sample sizes for thematic analyses: A quantitative tool. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, (ahead-of-print), 1-16.

Haldin-herrgard, T. (2004). Diving under the surface of tacit knowledge. In Fifth European Conference on Organizational Knowledge, Learning, and Capabilities.

Kimble, C. (2013). Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge. Information Research, 18(2). URL: http://www.informationr.net/ir/18-2/paper577.html (Links to an external site.)

Polanyi, Michael. (2009). The tacit dimension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1966) URL: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/844340336

First Day

The beginning of a new semester is a fresh start. With a laptop and hundreds of dollars of books in hand, I am ready for the odyssey before me. I am arriving at the halfway mark of my first doctoral semester. The memes were right – a Master’s program pales in comparison to a doctoral program. Have you had a nice, long, relaxing winter break?


The to-do list NEVER ends. Research, data analysis, writing, course prep, self-loathing, etc.

I am experiencing a lot of anxiety prior to this semester. What will my classes be like? Will my research be accepted? Why am I doing this? Can I do this? Symptoms of the dreaded impostor syndrome.


My most important discovery is that a positive attitude goes a long way. Also sleep. And coffee. And wine.


All kidding aside, I am ready for what this semester will bring. New information and new faces. Happy spring semester!