Re-thinking the “thing”: Sociomaterial approaches to understanding and researching learning in work



Fenwick T (2010) Re-thinking the “thing”: Sociomaterial approaches to understanding and researching learning in work. Journal of Workplace Learning, 22 (40940), pp. 104-116.

Purpose: This article compares theoretical conceptions that reclaim and re-think material practice – ‘the thing’ in the social and personal mix – specifically in terms of work activity and what is construed to be learning in that activity. Approach: The article is theory-based. Three perspectives have been selected for discussion: cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), actor-network theory (ANT), and complexity theory. A comparative approach is used to examine these three conceptual framings in context of their uptake in learning research to explore their diverse contributions and limitations on questions of agency, power, difference, and the presence of the ‘thing’. Findings: The three perspectives bear some similarities in their conceptualization of knowledge and capabilities as emerging - simultaneously with identities, policies, practices and environment - in webs of interconnections between heterogeneous things, human and nonhuman. Yet each illuminates very different facets of the sociomaterial in work-learning that can afford important understandings: about how subjectivities are produced in work, how knowledge circulates and sediments into formations of power, and how practices are configured and re-configured. Each also signals, in different ways, what generative possibilities may exist for counter-configurations and alternate identities in spaces and places of work. Value: While some dialogue has occurred among ANT and CHAT, this has not been developed to compare more broadly the metaphysics and approaches of these perspectives, along with complexity theory which is receiving growing attention in organizational research contexts. This article purports to introduce the nature of these debates to work-learning researchers and point to their implications for opening useful questions

actor-network theory; activity theory; complexity theory; sociomaterial; workplace learning; Actor-network theory; Curriculum planning Cross-cultural studies; Education Philosophy

Journal of Workplace Learning: Volume 22, Issue 40940

Publication date31/12/2010

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Professor Tara Fenwick
Professor Tara Fenwick

Emeritus Professor, Education