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Practical knowledge: a contradiction in terms? Jeanne Gamble University of Cape Town 8 December 2008.

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Presentation on theme: "Practical knowledge: a contradiction in terms? Jeanne Gamble University of Cape Town 8 December 2008."— Presentation transcript:

1 Practical knowledge: a contradiction in terms? Jeanne Gamble University of Cape Town 8 December 2008

2 Why theorise the idea of practical knowledge? OR Can practical knowledge be called knowledge at all? TIME-SPACE premium on knowledge which favours: NOW – immediacy of application HERE – learning in authentic situations This pushes our understanding of what counts as knowledge more and more in the practical direction.

3 Knowledge and knowing External product Internal process as as knowledge discipline or sciencecognition or consciousness philosophy of sciencephilosophy of mind sociology of knowledgecognitive psychology social realism social constructivism (radical)constructivismbehaviourism (Fuller 2007)

4 How do we understand constructivist accounts of practical knowledge? Recovery of Aristotelian notion of phronesis as practical wisdom concerned with virtuous action and deliberation (Dunne, 1993) Crucial relation between phronesis and experience, which hinges on an interpretation of ‘character’ as ‘experience’ Character is deemed cognitional in its inner structure with the dynamics and structure of ‘ethical being’ viewed as replicating those of knowledge. Knowledge thus becomes a constitutive element of ‘character’.

5 “Practical knowledge has been shown as a fruit which can grow only in the soil of a person’s experience and character; apart from the cultivation of this soil there is no artifice for making it available in a way that would count. In exposing oneself to the kind of experience and acquiring the kind of character that will yield the requisite knowledge, one is not the kind of epistemic subject that has been canonized by the modern tradition of philosophy. One is at the same time a feeling, expressing acting person and one’s knowledge is inseparable from one as such” (Dunne, 1993: 358). Aristotle read through Oakshott (1962) denudes phronesis of its moral dimension to provide the philosophical basis for social practice theories of learning that take the ‘here and now’ of lived experience in the world as the key unit of analysis, e,g, Lave and Wenger (1991)

6 Knowledge in ‘community of practice’ terms In Lave and Wenger’s view abstraction is not a feature of knowledge itself but refers to the disconnectedness of a particular social practice through what they call ‘sequestering’ or the prevention of LPP. This they claim is what happens pervasively in schools. In principle no difference between context-dependent and context-independent forms of knowledge No knowledge differentiation No knowledge hierarchy

7 How do we understand realist accounts of practical knowledge? Social realism (SR) presupposes the existence of a reality that is logically independent of all human representations so that knowledge is structurally differentiated from experience in ways that are beyond the perceptions and actions of individuals (Young, 2007). Distinction between knowledge forms (Bernstein, 2000) (See Bernstein 2000: 168 on the next slide). Knowledge hierarchy in terms of capacity for generalising propositions (‘verticality’, Muller, 2000); with a corresponding cognitive ability to manipulate knowledge objects in virtual space (‘faculty of verticality’, Muller 2002) SR gives an account of practical knowledge through ‘craft’, which sets up homologous relations with other forms of principled knowledge


9 How is it possible for craft to realise context- independent meaning? Gamble’s 2004 study of cabinet making shows how the tacit knowledge base of craft refers to a embodied principle of arrangement that operates at a level of generalisation (‘type’) i.e. higher than particular instantiation (‘token’). This relational principle is visualised or held in the body as a virtual time-space competence and transmitted through modelling Craft is thus a form of practical knowledge that is in the everyday world but not of the everyday world. (See diagram on the next slide)

10 Figure 2: A conceptual model of general and particular forms of knowledge (adapted from Gamble 2004a, 2004b)

11 Two versions of practical knowledge The first is located in the ‘here and now’ of immediate context or procedure - a social constructivist interpretation (PK1) The second is located in the virtual time-space relations of principled knowledge forms - a social realist interpretation (PK2)

12 PK1 Located in the ‘here and now’ of students’ immediate experience This is the kind of everyday knowledge often inserted into the curriculum to help students to relate abstract knowledge to the real world, as a way of facilitating access. Or, it is written as procedural specification of action or practice in outcomes-based or competence-based formats. The danger of the insertion of students’ everyday experience into the curriculum is that when students enter their everyday worlds they are unable to move towards abstraction.

13 PK2 Located in virtual time-space relations Posing and solving problems within the everyday of the disciplinary field and not the everyday of the student (Durkheim, 1961/2002). Everyday processes, such as observation, classifying, measuring, hypothesising and inferring become scientific because they utilise scientifically significant content, or theory-based categories. (Hodson 1992). Practical knowledge acquired through ‘doing science’ as a scientist would. The student enters the everyday world of science and the scientist. through hypothetical application of the general rule (Breier 2004)

14 Conclusion Attempting to make knowledge more practical as a way of giving greater access to school knowledge often requires students to enter the immediate experience of their own everyday worlds. Once there they often find it difficult to develop a more general or abstract orientation to knowledge. They understand the world only in terms of immediate contexts. This paper has argued that any theory of knowledge in the curriculum has to understand context-independence as a constitutive feature of knowledge, whether this knowledge is made available through abstract reasoning or through practical activity.

15 References: Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity (revised edition). Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Breier, M. (2004) A network analysis of formal and informal knowledge in adult pedagogy. Journal of Education, Vol. 33. 5 - 26. Dunne, J. (1993). Back to the rough ground: ‘phronesis’ and ‘techne’ in modern philosophy and in Aristotle. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. Durkheim, E. (1961/2002). Moral education (Everett K.Wilson & Herman Schnurer, Trans.). New York: Dover Publications Inc. Fuller, S. (2007). The Knowledge Book: Key concepts in philosophy, science and culture. Stocksfield: Acumen Publishing Limited. Gamble, J. (2004a). Retrieving the general from the particular: the structure of craft knowledge. In J. Muller, B. Davies and A. Morais (Eds). Reading Bernstein, researching Bernstein. 189 - 203. London: Routledge/Falmer. Gamble, J. (2004b). Tacit knowledge in craft pedagogy: A sociological analysis. Unpublished PhD dissertation. University of Cape Town. Hodson, D. (1992) Assessment of practical work: Some considerations in philosophy of science. Science and Education, Vol. 1, No. 2, 115-144. Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press. Muller, J. (2000). Reclaiming knowledge: social theory, curriculum and education policy. London and New York: RoutledgeFalmer. Muller, J. (2002). Splitting hairs: a sociological approach to educational change. Unpublished PhD dissertation. University of Cape Town.

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