Seminar Series - Professions, Professional Knowledge and the Professional Curriculum

Date: 26 February 2014 Time: 12.30 - 2.00 p.m.

Venue: B.89 County South

Seminar Series

Professor Michael Young

Institute of Education, University of London

Professions, Professional Knowledge and the Professional Curriculum

Abstract: My paper will examine two approaches to a question at the heart of debates about professions and professional education; what is the basis of their claims to expertise - knowledge or practice - and how do they achieve it? The dominant approach is the practice-based one which assumes that expertise refers to something members of a profession can do rather than something that they know. In contrast the knowledge-based approach assumes that a member of a profession's expertise refers to something they know. The paper focuses on this question by contrasting the ideas of Basil Bernstein and Donald Schon's in their efforts to establish a concept of knowledgeable practice.

The paper draws on Knowledge, Expertise and the Professions (Routledge 2014), the forthcoming book that I have edited with Johan Muller (University of Capetown).

Further information:

The paper I will present is based on the introduction that Johan Muller and I wrote for our book Knowledge, Expertise and the Professions to be published by Routledge in April 2014.

The best way I can indicate what my paper will aim to do is to outline the contents of the book itself. The book has three sections. Section 1 begins with a chapter on which my seminar presentation will be based. It outlines the current state of the sociology of the professions and provides an theoretical rationale for taking knowledge more seriously than is currently the case in much of the existing literature and points to the kind of research questions that such an approach leads to. It is followed by a chapter by Gerald Grace which sketches the broader moral compass of the professions, and asks whether the professions are still able to perform their Durkheimian duty as moral guardians of our contemporary society; he asks too what it will take to restore some moral coherence to our market-fragmented world.

The five chapters in Section 2 all engage with contemporary philosophical work on theoretical and practical knowledge. In chapter 1, Jan Derry, tackles a common misapprehension about the Russian social psychologist Lev Vygotsky, which depicts him as a kind of abstract Cartesian rationalist because of his stress on theoretical concepts. Using Robert Brandom's work, she shows how more nuanced understanding of Vygotsky can make a contribution to a theory of professional knowledge and judgment. In chapter 2, Christopher Winch, unpacks in some detail the varieties of practical knowledge which must be given due consideration in any professional curriculum, showing too that there is no practical knowledge that is devoid of some conceptual content. In chapter 3, Ben Kotzee undertakes a critical examination of the 'fluency theorists' such as Hubert Dreyfus who place exclusive stress on practical knowledge and builds on the most recent work on expertise by Harry Collins. This is followed by a chapter by David Guile who approaches the question of professional knowledge from the perspective of professional practice, and depicts it as a continuous process of successive re-contextualisations. In the final chapter Yael Shalem addresses the question as to how professional judgments can be stabilised in a 'minor' or 'semi' profession like teaching where a broadly accepted and stable knowledge base is not in place.

The third section in the book presents five cases of professional knowledge in the curriculum or in practice. Hu Hanrahan tackles the question of engineering knowledge, presenting a picture of how it has changed over the years; he gives an account of how engineering knowledge varies across the different engineering occupations and across the theory - practice continuum. Francis Carter looks at curriculum struggles over time in the French architectural curriculum, and how theoretical considerations - in this case aesthetic ones - have managed to retain a measure of dominance despite the rising technical demands of contemporary science and technology. Jennifer Case examines key contemporary debates in the engineering curriculum, and argues for a model of curriculum reform that will not undermine the demands of conceptual coherence. Martin McNamara casts an analytical gaze on the contemporary nursing curriculum and shows the problems that current attempts to shore up the nursing knowledge base in the curriculum give rise to. In the final chapter Nick Taylor looks at the curriculum for mathematics teachers in South Africa and shows that 'subject knowledge for teaching' - knowledge of mathematics itself - has to form the substrate to a strong professional identity, and an effective professional practice.

Michael Young is Professor of Education (Emeritus) at the Institute of Education, University of London. A former secondary school science teacher, he later studied sociology part time and was appointed to the Institute as lecturer in Sociology of Education. In 1986 he was asked to establish a Post 16 Education Centre which with the support of TVEI funding. The Centre undertook research, consultancy and professional development on the post compulsory curriculum and led to the IOE offering a Masters Degree in Vocational Education. In 1991 my colleague, Ken Spours and I played a leading role in the IPPR Report A British Baccalaureate; ending the division between education and training . Since the year 2000 Michael has been increasingly involved in international work, especially but not only in South Africa and Brazil . He is currently Visiting Professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and a number of other universities overseas and in this country. His most recent publications, following Knowledge and Control(Collier Macmillan 1971) have been The Curriculum of the Future( Falmer 1998), Bringing Knowledge Back In (Routledge 2008), with Stephanie Allais Implementing National Qualifications across FIVE continents( Routledge 2013), with Johan Muller Knowledge Expertise and the Professions(Routledge (2014), and with David Lambert Knowledge, the Curriculum and social justice(Bloomsbury 2014). He is currently working on a new book with with Johan Muller Curriculum and the Specialisation of knowledge: Studies in the sociology of education to be published by Routledge in 2014 or 2015.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation, Educational Research