Original Research

Capital-centric versus knowledge-centric paradigms of human resource management: A historical perspective

Chris W. Callaghan
Acta Commercii | Vol 16, No 1 | a350 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ac.v16i1.350 | © 2016 Chris W. Callaghan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 September 2015 | Published: 20 April 2016

About the author(s)

Chris W. Callaghan, School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa


Orientation: Central to understanding the contemporary state of the human resource management (HRM) field is knowledge of its history, and the underlying rationales as to why it has changed over time. This research attempts to identify one such important ‘rationale’.

Research purpose: This article relates certain changes in HRM over time to the argument that there has been a shift from an industrial paradigm (on which many human resource [HR] systems, practices and theoretical frameworks are still based) to a knowledge paradigm (of knowledge work, in which employee knowledge and skills offer compound advantages that are not substitutable) which explains a great deal of the variance in changes of the field over time.

Motivation for the study: It is argued that in order for the field to move forward, it may needto bring to the surface certain assumptions and differentiate between theoretical frameworkswhen dealing with knowledge work versus non-knowledge work.

Research design, approach and method: This article offers a perspective of HR theory development over time. It is a conceptual/perspectives article and is not qualitative nor quantitative in nature. Further research will be able to test the ideas presented here.

Practical/managerial implications: Managers and human resources managers need to differentiate between knowledge and non-knowledge work. The latter is associated with increased heterogeneity and complexity, and differences in power relationships, as knowledge work shifts power away from capital into the hands of skilled knowledge labour.


HRM; Theory; Capital; Knowledge


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