02 SES 03 A, Analytical Lens on VET: Social Justice and Inequality
The move towards marketization of educational policy, which has taken place during the last twenty years, was part an OECD initiative, supported by EU and has resulted in a conversion of VET curricula into formal outcome criteria (e.g. Ball 2008, Lawn & Grek 2012, Meyer & Benavot 2013). When these systems are gradually transformed, they become bureaucratic frameworks designed to cover dispersed, fragmented practices, and it is easy to forget that this so-called “turn to practice” was anticipated by reforms pursuing work-oriented goals of democratic ideals; e.g. the introduction of “learning fields” in the German VET system founded on conceptions of work-process knowledge development (e.g. Fischer & Rauner 2002, Boreham, Samurcay & Fischer 2002). In the wake of the Lisbon Strategy, which reinforced politics of symbolics (Alvesson 2013), the practice-turn was altered and became a market-oriented concept. At the same time some enclaves of VET policies in Europe, especially in Germany, were motivated by opposite ideals of humanisation of work (Rauner 2007, Boreham 2010). Holistic notions of vocational composite knowledge mainly disappeared, as EU allied countries stepwise followed the crumbling UK VET model, which turned apprenticeship notions into overt performance criteria (e.g. Brockmann et al 2009, Young 2008, Deichman-Sørensen 2015).
This paper starts out from the paradox hinted to above of work-based knowledge apparently being highly rewarded in current economies whilst, simultaneously, being progressively marginalized and obstructed (cf. Guile 2010). We will argue for a reintroduction of socio-technical principles as developed by the Tavistock School, the founding fathers of the early humanisation of work movement. There are three rationales for revisiting these principles: firstly, it seems crucial to re-establish a triangulation of the three dimensions of business, production and labour processes critical to socio-technical design in order to avoid levelling logics of marketisation (e.g. “credentialism” or “lean production”) or binary oppositions of similar origin (e.g. “hybrid professionalism”, Noordegraaf 2007). Secondly, as local and global economies become more interconnected the more ecological accounts of vocational or work knowledge are required. Similar challenges were met by the Tavistock group in their conceptualization of open systems’ dynamics (e.g. Elden 1976, Emery 2000; triggering as such, among others, questions like where to set the boundaries of “communities of practice” inside network economies). Of special interest, additionally, is their keeping of securing “redundancy of functions” (mainly talents) which lays the ground for “joint optimisation” to happen (and how does this possibly link to current criteria of ‘literacy’, we may ask). Another notion of interest is their conceptualisation of matrix organisations (e.g. Herbst 1976). One notion of gestalts in a series of “behavioural worlds (Herbst 1970), connected to matrix organisation is intimately coupled to a spatial notion of learning (i.e. questioning, inclusively, linear conceptions of career building). Thirdly, and consequently, system-oriented ecological theories are dependent upon cogent notions of mediation. In this respect the most important contribution is the notion of “co-genetic logic” outlined in the works of Philip Herbst (e.g. 1976), which bears a similarity to a newly coined notion of “meshwork” by Tim Ingold (2011) as exemplified by ‘line drawing’.
We will use the socio-technical school of Tavistock as a theoretical framework, which will afford us critical re-entries into dominant neo-liberal languages of work life qualifications (as grounded, notably, on critics of bureaucratic practices) whilst simultaneously enabling us to correlate, integrate and compare practice theories on work-based learning of divergent origins and epochs (including ANT, activity theories, ethnographic studies, et cetera). Thence, the purpose of this study is to contribute to the establishment of an analytical framework for discussing vocational knowledge development in terms of purposive activities resting in varied spatialities of encultured practice.
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