Professional practice and learning as if times, spaces, bodies and things matter

Year: 2012

Author: Hopwood, Nick

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The body has been banished from learning, as have its enmeshments in social and material nets of action (Fenwick 2030). Thin conceptions of competence in work result from this erasure (Mulcahy 2011).

The research reported in this paper was motivated by these theoretical concerns and strong sympathy with the notion that professional practice, learning and education need to be understood in bodily terms (Hopwood 2010, Somerville 2010). On this premise, and particularly informed by Schatzki's practice theory (1996, 2002, 2010), I carried out sustained ethnographic fieldwork paying deliberate attention to the role of bodies in professional practice and learning.

The setting was the Residential Unit (RU) of Karitane, in Carramar, Sydney. Karitane provides a range of services for families with young children, with the RU offering intensive support for parents experiencing sustained and/or acute difficulties relating to sleeping, settling, feeding, behaviour and attachment with children aged between 0 and 4 years. Up to 10 families arrive each Monday for a 5 day stay, helped by a professional team including nurses, social workers, child care workers, a paediatrician, psychiatrist, and psychologist. I visited the RU regularly over a 9 month period, primarily shadowing staff. I took over 300 photos and collected over 100 documents.

My interest in bodies has remained strong in understanding the practices these professionals perform, and what and how they learn as part of their work. However I have had to look elsewhere to account for many striking features of what I observed. Thus I will present a framework with four dimensions: times, spaces, bodies and things. These are not conceived as wholly distinct concepts, and indeed their overlaps will be highlighted. Times and spaces intertwine, bodily rhythms create times, bodily presence and actions constitute spaces, and boundaries between bodies and things create cyborgs (Haraway 1991). I will explore how the work of the RU is temporal, spatial, embodied and material work, and how professional learning shares these qualities. I will link these ideas back to Schatzki's practice theory and to wider literature on these themes.