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Posted by: on Jun 22, 2012 | No Comments

The Learning Challenge of the Knowledge Economy
By David Guile

David Guile, who teaches at the Institute of Education at the University of London, takes on the question of how the knowledge economy challenges education. Grounding his arguments in cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and related thought, Guile carefully examines the assumptions behind the knowledge economy literature, particularly assumptions about scientific and tacit knowledge, then develops an account of CHAT that both challenges these assumptions and provides a firmer basis for education going forward.

At the heart of Guile’s critique of the knowledge economy literature is its tendency to see knowledge as relatively unproblematic “information generation, processing and transmission” (p.13), a tendency that Guile detects in Bell, Castells, and other knowledge economy writers, rather than as emerging through human interpretation, comprehension, and competence (p.24). Indeed, “Castells, like Bell, treats knowledge and information as though they are malleable, serve utilitarian functions in society, and their meaning is quite transparent” (p.43).

This tendency leads such thinkers to focus on tacit knowledge, which they discuss by citing Polanyi without quite getting Polanyi’s more nuanced concept. That is, tacit knowledge is seen as a “tricky kind of knowledge to put to work in the economy … because it is embodied in people and embedded in networks” (p.24). Yet, Guile argues, Polanyi lays out tacit and explicit knowledge as interdependent dimensions of knowledge, not separated; mediated, not binary (p.39).

To provide an alternate account, Guile turns to CHAT work, including Ilyenkov, Roth, and Engestrom. In particular, Guile is interested in Engestrom’s understanding of coconfiguration and knotworking (pp.118-119). Engestrom’s contribution, Guile argues, is a reconceptualization of the relationship between theory and practice (p.123). Yet Guile also argues that Engestrom tends to (a) underplay the challenge of eliminating sources of friction in activity systems and activity networks, and (b) overstate the necessity and suitability of his interventionalist methodology (p.124).

Overall, I found this book to be an illuminating read. It goes farther into learning theory than I generally care to go, but then again, the book is founded on educational theory. If that’s your focus, the book is definitely worth it. But even if your focus is more along the lines of workplace studies, as mine is, the book will provide valuable insights. Take a look.

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