Learning and knowing

3 December 2009

For a number of months, Lisa Callagher and I have been talking about theories of practice. We have both found the discussions productive in sharpening our individual understanding of theories of practice. However, I have not taken the time to note the insights those discussions have produces. And so, the following few entries are my attempt to crystallising into words what I have come to understand. In other words this is my ‘take’ on our conversations, and so all the biases, errors of logic, and so on are mine.

For the past few weeks we have been talking about learning and knowing; what they are and how they relate to one another … and how they are connected to theories of practice.

Learning and knowing; why use gerunds (-ing)? Perhaps it comes from from Weick’s (1969) admonishment to so do. However, for me, it reflects an underlying view that things can be learnt or known, rather they are dynamic and contextually dependent, and so learning and knowing only exist in the doing. Such a stance probably owes something to the notion of social becoming (Sztompka, 1991), but it is hard to judge exactly what has influenced ones thinking.

What has, specifically, influenced my thinking is the work of Kelly (1955) and his notions around personal construct psychology. Although not as widely read/popular as other theories of personality and thinking, 50-years on, I find his work compelling and largely consistent with what we know from neuroscience. This probably means that I should do a ‘small’ entry on PCP as it is known.

The desire to ‘go back’ to earlier principles is something of a habit with me. I recall that when I was doing electrical engineering, in examinations I could never remember the necessary formulas. So I would always quickly work them out at the start of the exam; it just seemed easier than recalling a rather abstract pattern of symbols, letters, and numbers. Lisa has read some of my writing and comments that I’ve a tendency to do a lot of ‘definitional work’. I do tend to build up to things. I also like to have the historical context of things too. I rarely accept an idea without looking at where the idea came from. It can make reading a slow process … and writing even slower. Such an approach is probably why I’m drawn to notions of situated action (Suchman, 1987) and the like.

Anyway, back to PCP (eventually).


Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.

Suchman, L. A. (1987). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sztompka, P. (1991). Society in action: The theory of social becoming. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Weick, K. E. (1969). The social psychology of organizing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.