This symposium presents studies of different professional groups – educators, nurses, police and social workers in Italy, Norway, Scotland and Sweden - to address two main themes in professional learning and knowledge construction. First, it outlines ways of understanding professional learning as material enactments of knowledge. Second, it troubles the category of ‘urban’ spaces of professional knowledge, exploring the ways that professionals enact different forms of knowledge work and objectual relationships at different sites. These sites of practice may be more urban or more rural, but together form the machinery of professionals’ knowledge production.
To the first theme, all four papers draw from theoretical perspectives that step aside from subject-centred, reflectivist orientations of professional learning to focus on the socio-material webs of practice. They explore the ways that professional knowledge is distributed and constructed or performed differently in different local sites. The paper authors, drawing from actor-network theory, science and technology studies, complexity science, Knorr-Cetina’s object-relations, and practice-based theory are all conceptualising professional learning as a matter of negotiating different knowledge resources to assemble and order strategies, objects, texts, technologies and values in moments of activity.
To the second theme, the papers each show how professional knowledge seems intended to flow outwardly from urban-based centres of research and practice, where resources are concentrated to develop ‘evidence-based’ universalised best practices that are then incorporated into regulatory codes and professional development for all practitioners, including those operating in very different settings such as remote ‘rural’ and community-based sites. For example, paper one examines police work and knowledge in Scotland, showing how models of best practice for police work are often derived from large urban environments, but then become reconfigured and recoded in non-urban environments where professionals must draw from other knowledge strategies such as community relationships and local resources. In paper two, hospital nurses in Norway engage in validating and explicating knowledge-based procedures in some working sites, while other sites are dominated by application of these in the interaction with patients/clients. If we are to understand the knowledge production and knowledge relations comprising professional learning, we need to take into account these different sites.
Furthermore, the papers show how professional practice and knowledge is difficult to conceive as bordered in particular static spaces designated as ‘urban’ or ‘rural’. The Scottish police case study shows that communities which some may describe as rural are in fact considered to be urban by many inhabitants, and also that certain ‘urban’ characteristics are enacted in more remote spaces. Professionals themselves can be highly mobile, transporting objects and texts embedding particular practices and knowledge across more rural or more urban sites of practice. The social workers case shows how professionals move across sites that encapsulate elements of both rurality and urbanity. All four cases show, in different ways, how professional knowledge is produced as professionals learn through combining very different, even conflicting, resources in everyday enactments of knowledge: local practices and values, organisational traditions and policies, disciplinary knowledge bases and commitments of their particular professions, regulatory standards for practice, transnational and web-based knowledge, improvised work-arounds, and so forth.
These two themes – the materiality of professionals’ learning and the diverse but connected enactments of professional knowledge at different sites – have important implications for continuing professional development. Each paper shows why and how to reconceptualise notions of ‘developing’ professionals to focus instead on professionals’ attunement to the different knowledge resources available, the knowledge strategies that can be most productive for them, and the ways that knowledge is enacted differently across different sites of practice.
European Conference for Educational Research, September 12-16, Freie Universität Berlin