Chapter 1: Introduction

What does it take to be a productive member of a multidisciplinary team working on a complex problem? What enables a person to integrate different types and fields of knowledge, indeed different ways of knowing, in order to make some well-founded decisions about actions to be taken in the world? What personal knowledge resources are entailed in analysing a problem and describing an innovative solution, such that the innovation can be shared in an organization or professional community? How do people get better at these things; and how can teachers in higher education help students develop these valued capacities? The answers to these questions are central to a thorough understanding of what it means to become an effective knowledge worker and of how the preparation of students for a profession can be improved.

Working on real-world problems usually requires the combination of different kinds of specialised and context-dependent knowledge, as well as different ways of knowing. People who are flexible and adept with respect to different ways of knowing about the world can be said to possess epistemic fluency.

This book is intended to make a contribution to our shared understanding of epistemic fluency in some of the core activities of professional workers. It uses data from a four-year project investigating the boundaries between (university-based) professional education and professional practice, with the aim of analysing the epistemic nature of such professional work and identifying some key sources of capability that people need if they are to engage successfully in it. These embrace a range of mental resources, including conceptual, perceptual and experiential resources and, especially, the epistemic resources that help people to recognise and switch between different ways of knowing and forms of knowledge. Such resources also help people participate in the creation of new knowledge that can be represented and shared in their professional culture(s).

The book is part of a general move to build upon, and integrate, cognitivist, socio-cultural and other accounts of learning, knowing and acting (Sawyer, 2014; Sternberg & Horvath, 1999; Schatzki et al., 2001; Kemmis & Smith, 2008; Billett & Henderson, 2011; Billett, 2014; Billett et al., 2014; Collins, 2007; Dall’Alba, 2009; Edwards, 2010; Farrell & Fenwick, 2007; Fenwick & Nerland, 2014). It draws on research into professional learning carried out in continental Europe, Britain, North America and Australia. It connects this with two previously discrete streams of theorisation about learning and thinking which originate in (i) research on science education and “resource-based” epistemology, originating in America and (ii) research on the materiality of knowledge work, originating in France.

The book’s synthesis of recent research into the nature of professional learning, knowledge work and personal mental resources offers a new and powerful conceptualisation of epistemic fluency in professional practice. It links the social and material investigation of purposeful activity with the exploration of key features of mental resourcefulness in knowledge work. Results from our empirical studies are used to illustrate and develop this conceptual framework and to shed light on practical ways in which the development of epistemic fluency can be recognised and supported – in higher education and in the transition to work. We hope that the ideas will be of interest to an international audience of researchers, as well as to curriculum leaders and other practitioners in the areas of professional education and continuing professional development.


The book is divided into four parts. Part One (Chapters 1 and 2) is scene-setting. Part 2 (Chapters 3 to 7) is where we provide an explanation of the theoretical ideas needed to understand actionable knowledge, knowledgeable action and epistemic fluency in professional work and learning. Part 3 (Chapters 8 to 18) is still theoretically-oriented, but each of the chapters includes some significant use of material from our empirical studies – mainly to illustrate the key points that we are trying to make.

In these chapters, we explore professional knowing and learning from six perspectives, each of which helps construct an understanding of epistemic fluency, actionable knowledge and knowledgeable action: These are an:

  • object-oriented perspective (Chapters 8 and 9),
  • inscriptional perspective (Chapters 10 and 11),
  • infrastructural perspective (Chapters 12 and 13),
  • epistemic games perspective (Chapters 14 and 15),
  • sociomaterial-embodied perspective (Chapter 16) and a
  • personal resourcefulness perspective (Chapters 17 and 18).

Finally Part 4 (Chapters 19 and 20) draws the book to a close, with some thoughts about educational approaches that are conducive to the development of epistemic fluency, including an extended, integrative conception of epistemic fluency that we present in Chapter 20.

Source: These are extracts from Chapter 1 of Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (forthcoming, 2015). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer. This is a close-to-final draft. Please check the final published version if you are going to quote it. The book  is available from Springer’s e-shop.

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2 responses to “Chapter 1: Introduction

  1. Pingback: Epistemic fluency, interdisciplinarity and expertise | epistemic fluency

  2. Pingback: Understanding the learning brain in the world | epistemic fluency

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