Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context

Chaiklin, Seth

Through vivid accounts of human endeavors as diverse as the practices of Danish university examinations and California special classroom placement committees; helicopter transport ship navigators and math problem solvers in varied settings; consultations between doctors, psychotherapists, and their clients; the craft of artificial intelligence research and the design problems of amateur blacksmithing, this book offers creative approaches to the old problem of what we mean when we refer to "the contexts" of human action and interaction. The excitement and fascination of these essays lies in part in their pursuit of a closely interrelated set of theoretical quandaries through rich portraits of everyday practices. Further, the authors set out from the beginning to present the most formidable and diverse approaches to the contextual character of human activity, and this too, gives significance to the volume. It seems especially urgent to reconsider the problem of social context, given the intensity of contemporary concern about relational, situated, historical conceptions of social practice and activity, the self and subjectivity, and their located everyday character. The authors agree on two basic points. First, it is a fatal mistake to adopt casually unexamined conceptions of "situation," "location," "everyday practice," "setting" - or "context" - in our enthusiasm to examine human activity as social practice. Second, the popular notion of context as a container of activity must be rejected, while at the same time this deeply held cultural tenet must be analyzed, for much activity is configured in its name, both in and out of the social sciences. The authors' innovative reformulations begin with the view that the task is to reconceptualize "the social world of activity" in relational terms. Both the work of learning and the learning of work are central to the enterprise, and together they speak for the power of relational accounts to illuminate understanding prac Editorial Reviews From the Publisher 'Understanding Practice is an important contribution to the direction of the field. It has a cohesive theme that is timely in the direction of several disciplines, including psychology, anthropology and education.' Barbara Rogoff

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