02 SES 02 A, Review of VET Research and Theory Construction in VET
Research addressing workplace learning and VET frequently locates this within the pursuit of competitiveness and social justice (Mjelde and Daly, 2012). In the EU, i-VET as well as c-VET is seen to play a significant role in the development of social inclusion/cohesion (EU 2002, 2010; and see JVET, 2011). This rests alongside the importance attached to the ongoing development of the knowledge based economy (Kbe). There are a number of ways in which the changes that have impacted upon Western economies in general and the EU in particular have been understood. Such understandings have influenced the way in which the relationship between workplace learning and knowledge have been conceptualised. There is an extensive literature that addresses workplace learning relating this to the needs of employers and workers, as well as more generally to social justice (see for example Malloch et al, 2011). This paper explores a particular feature of these debates. Specifically, it seeks to address the significance of workplace learning, its recognition and salience in a Kbe, examining the relevance of theorisations of cognitive capitalism for such conceptualisations (Boutang, 2011; Peters and Bulut, 2011). Much writing on workplace learning is orientated towards a social justice agenda that seeks to recognise and value the skills, particularly of disadvantaged workers in unskilled, low waged work. The social justice agenda aims to accredit and accord value to such work in order to provide equal opportunities, to credentialise learning and to recognise the often undervalued skills embodied in such labour. There is however a tension between workplace learning, its social justice commitments and the capitalist context in which much work occurs. Workplace learning can readily fold over into the development of variable labour power and value-added waged labour, both of which operate within and serve capitalist interests. Theorisations of cognitive capitalism suggest that capitalism has entered a new stage of development. This argument aligns with analyses of financialisation which suggest the manner in which surplus value is produced has undergone transformation (Fumagalli and Mazzadra, 2010; Marazzi, 2011; Vercellone, 2010). That is to say, the 'Kbe' is qualitatively different to the industrial capitalism that preceded it and constitutes a new stage of development. In some respects this represents a reversal from the real to formal subsumption of value, reflecting historical processes of primitive accumulation and the appropriation of common land in the early stages of capitalism. Whereas industrial capitalism was orientated towards the accumulation and expansion of capital, the current stage is concerned with scarcity, akin to that characteristic of monopoly capitalism. In addition this argument prioritises the development of knowledge and views this as a collective and implicitly democratic accomplishment that occurs outside the direct control of capital. In contradistinction to those accounts of workplace learning in which learning is centred on work, cognitive capitalism emphasises the role of 'common' or collectively formed knowledge developed outside the labour process which is then appropriated by capital in the pursuit of surplus value.
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