Many, many years ago, I was introduced to ‘epistemology‘ and ‘ontology‘ in a political philosophy class at the University of York. I was enchanted by the words and their potential to help me think about second order questions.
Three reading this week have brought back memories of these enchantments and have prompted me to think about knowing ourselves in coach learning environments.
Epistemic Cultures and Machineries of Knowledge Construction
The first prompt came from a 2007 paper written by Karin Cetina.
Karin proposes that a knowledge society:
is not simply a society of more knowledge and technology and of the economic and social consequences of these factors. It is also a society permeated with knowledge settings, the whole sets of arrangements, processes and principles that serve knowledge and unfold with its articulation. Epistemic cultures are the cultures of knowledge settings. (2007:361ff)
Her paper took my breath away as it articulated many of the ideas I had explored through my enchantments.
The notion of an epistemic culture captures “interiorised processes of knowledge creation”. It refers to:
those sets of practices, arrangements and mechanisms bound together by necessity, affinity and historical coincidence which, in a given area of professional expertise, make up how we know what we know. (2007:363)
Epistemic cultures are “cultures of creating and warranting knowledge”.
The sentence that stopped me in my tracks was “the focus in an epistemic culture approach is on the construction of the machineries of knowledge construction” (2007:363). (My emphasis).
Anne Edwards points out that Karin’s focus on machineries “directs attention from simply what experts know to how they know and how they build knowledge” (2010:9).
The second prompt came from a recommendation from a PhD student, Jo Gibson.
Jo suggested I look at a paper on the nursing profession that explored public image, self-concept and professional identity (Yvonne ten Hoeve, Gerard Jansen and Petrie Roodbol, 2014). It is a meta-review of the literature.
Yvonne, Gerard and Petrie observe:
Worldwide, nurses have developed themselves into professionals with a great deal of knowledge, as witnessed by the development of nursing protocols and guidelines. Despite these developments towards professionalization, previous studies on this subject have shown that nurses are not given due recognition for the skills they have (2014:296)
They propose “there is a strong need for a discussion on the image, the self-concept and the professional identity of nurses in a global context” (2014:297). They define self-concept as “the way we think about ourselves” (2014:303).
The paper explores how nurses might change public perceptions of their role by challenging stereotypical expectations of behaviour.
Connecting the Dots
The third prompt came from Esko Kilpi. His Medium post was a perfect synapse between the first-order review of nursing and Karin’s second-order epistemic culture discussion.
In his discussion of connecting within organisations, Esko points out “The cognitive opportunity of connecting lies in the fact that as we don’t all select the same things, we don’t all miss the same things”.
When we see information as a power plant that has the ability to organize, we realize the power of diversity and openness across boundaries. When information is transparent, people can organize effectively around changes, customers and purposes.
What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information streams that no one could predict they would want to know about. Even they themselves did not know they needed it — before they needed it. Thus information architectures can never be fully planned in advance.
We need a community of people who willingly participate and provide their insights to address increasingly interdependent issues. Collaboration is necessary because one person no longer has the answer. Answers reside in the interaction, between the different views to reality, between all of us.
Karin’s paper disturbed me in the best possible way. My readings in the philosophy of science had encouraged me to think about the fabrication of knowledge (in the sense of making). My sociological background has moved me to think about the social construction of knowledge.
Eski’s invitation to connect the dots resonates powerfully with my desire to connect those involved in coach learning and to do so openly to engage in reflections in and on practice.
I have shared Yvonne, Gerard and Petrie’s paper as a diligent attempt to discuss self-concept in a profession. If we are to do the same in coach learning, I think we must address how the knowledge we draw upon is constructed.
I do think ‘epistemology’, ‘ontology’, ‘sociology of knowledge’ and ‘personal construct psychology’ have a place in our lexicon. I hope that in making such concepts explicit we can engage in profound conversations about who we are and how we know ourselves.
Keith Lyons (CC BY 4.0)