Learning in the academic workplace: the harmonization of the collective and the individual habitus

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Studies in Higher Education

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

One of the challenges of research into social practice is finding a way to take both the structural aspects of the social contexts and individual agency into account. This article describes the use of Bourdieu's social practice theory, together with Lave and Wenger's situated learning theory, to understand how the learning of practice takes place within the academic workplace. Drawing on interviews with academics across three departments at a research‐intensive, historically white university in South Africa, the author explored how new academics engaged with the assessment practices in their departments, and developed their confidence to judge student performance of complex assessment tasks. The study provides a set of conceptual tools for academic staff development practitioners to use in supporting academics in their learning to teach. An argument is made for the process of learning in the workplace to be understood in terms of the harmonization of the individual habitus with the collective habitus in departmental communities of practice. Evidence is also provided of the importance of context in understanding how academics learn.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Studies in Higher Education on 20 August 2009, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/03075070802556149.