Structuring Knowledge Through Authentic Activities
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This thesis examines links between social and cognitive contributions to thinking and acting. It delineates how historical, cultural, community and individual sources of knowledge influence the construction of knowledge. Specifically, the thesis investigates the cognitive consequences of participation in everyday vocational practice and relates cognitive activity to different social sources of knowledge. The study supports predictions about how the construction of representations of knowledge in memory and problem-solving strategies are influenced by the social circumstances of the acquisition of that knowledge and individuals' personal histories, which are themselves socially determined. The initial chapters of the thesis synthesise links between social and cognitive contributions to knowledge and advance an initial reconciliation between cognitive and socio-cultural perspectives on knowledge, which have distinct epistemologies and traditions of inquiry. Cognitive psychology focuses on the internal processes of mind, whereas the socio-cultural constructivist perspective emphasises the location of sources and the development of knowledge in social and cultural activity. The initial reconciliation is achieved by advancing areas of commonality and compatibility between the two literatures, to synthesise an account of how knowledge is sourced, constructed and developed in vocational practice. From these theoretical views it is predicted that individuals' constructions of knowledge embedded in communities of practice will have commonalities, whereas procedures and concepts that are disembedded from practice are likely to be more idiosyncratically structured. Moreover, it is advanced that dispositions (values, interest and attitude) which underpin the construction and organisation of cognitive structures are also shaped by social practice and personal histories. Through microgenetic development, which comprises the ongoing routine and non-routine problem-solving in everyday vocational practice, it is argued that these embedded forms of knowledge are appropriated by individuals. This form of development contributes to the ongoing cognitive development of individuals throughout their life history or ontogeny. It is predicted that, as each community of practice privileges historically derived and socio-cultural knowledge in a particular way, these different social circumstances provide access to forms of knowledge which reflect their activity systems. The practical investigation used to examine these predictions comprised two studies of a vocational activity (hairdressing) in four communities of practice (hairdressing salons) with eleven subjects (expert and novice hairdressers). The first study comprised an investigation of the social circumstances of each salon. The second study comprised problem-solving and concept-mapping activities used to elicit data about subjects' construction and deployment of vocational knowledge. The predictions from theory were upheld. The first study found the activity systems of each setting were quite distinct, yielding complexes of social elements and factors which shaped practice. In the second study, the concept mapping exercises suggested that conceptual knowledge which is disembedded from practice remains highly idiosyncratic in its construction, whereas knowledge embedded in practice has elements of commonality across subjects. The problem-solving activities in this study found that knowledge accessed by the subjects had three discernible sources. Firstly, concepts and procedures that were common across all four settings were associated with the canonical socio-cultural practice of hairdressing. Secondly, within each community, there was a preference for particular concepts and procedures, such as goals and approaches to securing goals. This preference was more than choice of techniques, as it extended to how work was undertaken, which included approaches to and resolution of problems. Thirdly, the influence of individuals' histories (ontogenetic development) was evident in conceptualisations of goals and preferences for securing those goals. These links between different social contributions and their cognitive consequences are delineated. The contributions advanced by this thesis are sixfold: (i) synthesising an initial reconciliation of two constructivist perspectives; (ii) providing a situated basis for conceptualising knowledge domains and expertise; (iii) identifying the role of dispositions in cognitive development; (iv) delineating social sources of knowledge - history, culture, community and individuals; (v) recognising different community types and engagement in practice; and (vi) applying constructivist theory to portray and understand the development of skilful vocational knowledge. Moreover, these fmdings have implications for the development of vocational knowledge. In particular, as different types of knowledge are sourced in different circumstances, there are important implications for how knowledge can be accessed and appropriated, and arrangements made to organise that access and appraise learners' development of vocational knowledge.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Education and Professional Studies
Construction of knowledge