There is much in this book to absorb and reflect on. Lave’s passion for her work shines through every page in the book. She writes of her commitment to the task of critical ethnography and how doing research through praxis, involves also changing one’s whole ways of doing, thinking and being. In so doing, the researcher is continually transforming their identity, just as the participants they are observing grow as they learn and develop. Of importance is the ‘critical’ aspect. The critical ethnography researcher needs to be mindful of the impact of their fieldwork and to use their findings to help improve opportunities for their participants.
Chapter one is very much a deliberation on how research apprenticeship has also involved the researcher is undertaking an apprenticeship in critical ethnography.
Chapter two is an overview of Lave’s original work in Liberia, when she undertook to study the mathematics learnt through ‘informal’ learning. There are vivid descriptions of the tailor’s district and the apprenticeship system as practiced 40 years ago in West Africa.
Chapter three ‘becoming a tailor’ details the ways in which tailors learn their craft and how many of the skills learnt were also about ‘being a tailor’. The beginning of learning to be a tailor, involves entry points both into the trade/apprenticeship and into learning tailoring. The emergence of the well quoted ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ conception is described and substantiated with observations of how novice tailors enter the trade and begin tailoring by firstly learning how to sew on buttons. This not only provides a 'simple' task to master but the opportunity to examine the finished pair of trousers through 'tailors' eyes and hands'.
Chapter four goes into ‘testing learning transfer’. Here Lave describes a series of experiments she carried out with tailors, to find out if ‘school based’ type mathematics or algorithms would be similar in a workplace situation. The chapter also details much of Lave’s reflection on the effectiveness of this form of research method. A must read chapter on how embedding numeracy practices needs to be based on real-world practices and not just ‘school based’ learning couched into a different format.
Chapter five titled ‘multiplying situations’ goes into Lave’s strategies to improve on the work described in the previous chapter. Having found out that work-based mathematics was vastly different from school-based approaches, she describes in this chapter, her work at unravelling the salient structures that underlie work-based and real-life practical mathematics, what Lave calls ‘mundane maths’. The example used to explain the ideas learnt are apt. It is a record of a tailor, negotiating the best price from a customer, using quick calculations to ensure that he gained a reasonable profit, while the customer drove the price down with aggressive bargaining. How did apprentices learn this skill? And could such a skill have been learnt in a school-based system?
The last chapter ‘researching apprenticeship, research as apprenticeship’ links back to the discussion in chapter 1. I can relate well to how doing research via completion of PhD is very much a research apprenticeship. This brief chapter also lays out the foundational premises for situated learning so that the transfer of learning between school and real-world application is narrowed.
The references contain a wealth of anthropological literature to explore further. Many are pre-1970s to support the work as reported in the book but there are a substantial number of newer references I am not familiar with which will need following up.