Friday, February 17, 2012

Apprenticeship in critical ethnographical practice - Jean Lave's new book

The new book by Professor Emerita Jean Lave and Professor Thomas P. Gibson  called 'Apprenticeship in critical ethnographical practice' (2011) is a wonderful read. It traces Lave’s journey as an ethnologists. Her initial studies of apprentices have contributed to a better understanding of how learning occurs in the real world. This book details her research of Vai and Gola tailors’ apprentices in Liberia in the 1970s. Threaded through the book is the practice of ethnography, the many facets of becoming a researcher through doing field work. Usual preview via Google books.

There is a recorded presentation at Universidad los Andes in Colombia– assumptions about how people learn and how work by anthropologist and social psychologists overturns some of these assumptions and suggests other approaches - summarising some of the concepts in the book.
I first found the book at the CPIT ebook library. However, it was frustrating to try to read the book at the office due to interruptions and the usual meetings interspersed through my work day. I then accessed the book at home on my ipad but had difficulty accessing the wifi in bed. So I had a look at Amazon and found the ebook at a reasonable price (NZ$15.12) so it is now on my ipad Kindle app and I have been able to dip in and out of it over the last two weeks. Each reading brings new learning. One Kindle feature is that the book shows up sections highlighted by other readers. I turned this off at the first skim read but for the current, more in-depth read, I have created and shared my own highlights and also paid some attention to what others have highlighted. As with all ebooks, the ability to bookmark and annotate is also a great advantage.

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.


Kika said...

Hola, mi nombre es Erika. Estoy emprendiendo un proyecto sobre "los saberes matemáticos en menores que trabajan". Pienso que es fundamental leer a esta autora, más aún cuando ya he revisado su libro "la cognición en la práctica". Sin embargo, mi nivel de inglés no es suficiente para leer el texto en su versión original. ¿Alguien sabe si hay una versión del libro en español? Agradezco la respuesta que puedan darme. ¡Saludos!

Jerry Gene said...

Your blog is so excellent that I like it very much, you must be good at writing.

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