Education (2015 cohort)
Keywords: Craftsmanship, learning, perception, phenomenology, autoethnography
In my project I explore the role sensory perception plays in the performance of skill by investigating what American wooden boat builders call ‘having the feel’ for tools and materials. Boat builders describe the ‘feel’ as a learned perceptual ability that allows them to see and feel things in the boat workshop in ways that the uninitiated cannot. To conduct this research, I am working alongside wooden boat builders in three workshops, considering how my own experience of tools and materials changes as I learn the trade myself. The promise of this work lies in asking what is missing in outcome-based conceptions of skill, with an initial hypothesis that the performance of skill requires learning new ways to perceive practical objects.
The project employs a hybrid theoretical framework combining Martin Heidegger’s ‘being-in-the-world’ with Jean Lave’s ‘communities of practice’, simultaneously looking inward toward individual perception and outward toward community reproduction. This combination of theories is possible due to their shared view of learning as situated in context and embedded in everyday practices. Employing an ethnographic method overall, I am gathering data through three techniques: interviews with wooden boat builders, participant observation in the workshop, and an autoethnographic account of my own perceptual experience while I attempt to ‘get the feel’.
My previous work includes running vocational education programmes in three countries, as well as working on a year-long review of vocational qualifications with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.
I welcome correspondence with anyone interested in sensory autoethnography, craftsmanship research, and the politics of practical work. I am also keenly interested in developing future research-practice partnerships, and look forward to connecting with researchers or education practitioners who share this ambition.