This article discusses changing social perspectives on knowledge, from the old sociology of knowledge to current post-colonial debates. The authors propose an approach that sees knowledge not as an abstract social construction but as the product of specific forms of social labour, showing the ontoformativity of social practice that creates reality through historical time. Research in three southern-tier countries examines knowledge workers and their labour process, knowledge institutions including workplaces and communication systems, economic strategies and the resourcing of knowledge work and workforces. This research shows in detail the contested hegemony of the global metropole in domains of knowledge. It reveals forms of negotiation that reshape knowledge production, and shows the importance for knowledge workers of the dynamics of global change.