Heidegger's Contribution to the Understanding of Work‐Based Studies

Norman Crowther (Post 16 Education, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, London, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 4 October 2011



Crowther, N. (2011), "Heidegger's Contribution to the Understanding of Work‐Based Studies", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 187-189. https://doi.org/10.1108/20423891111128944



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Time for Heidegger? Paul Gibbs's Heidegger's Contribution to the Understanding of Work‐Based Studies

To try to convince those in the field of education and those in work‐based learning in university settings that they should heed Heidegger's philosophy of Being is a tall order. This is what is attempted in this work. The ambition is extremely high. Making this task harder is the dearth of support for such a project from educationalists and philosophers of education, currently.

However, it is precisely such innovation and aspiration that can effect change. Perhaps the time is near when a full understanding of Heidegger is applied to education, training and work‐based learning matters. This work could provide such a turning point, if taken up.

There are, in effect, up to four audiences to consider for this work: educationalists, work‐based teachers, students on teacher training courses and the general reader. There is also the Heidegger community who could be used to support the interpretation that the author offers who could have added a fifth, but they have not been fully invited, as we shall see.

So, who is the book for? The author says, it is “to interest others in Heidegger's contribution [to work‐based learning] and in so doing offer a stimulus to thinking along with Heidegger about the phenomena of learning, work and being” (p. ix).

I think this laudable aim is clear enough and is certainly something that Paul Gibbs achieves in the range of areas that he covers. A range that is very expansive and runs from work‐based learning, modes of assessment, the nature of work, Heidegger's view of work and equipment, Heidegger's intimations on teaching and learning, Heidegger's concepts of boredom and temporality and, finally, a focus on research in work‐based learning environments. The gratuitous last chapter on the recession enables a more explicit articulation of the utopian vision that underpins the text.

We can begin with that vision first for it allows us to understand the aims and direction of the work and then move on to how the author goes about unpacking Heidegger's abstruse philosophy.

It is proposed that an adherence to Heidegger's questioning of the nature of Being, and an alertness to his thinking about what happens when we fail to do that, will prove of worth. Such adherence will involve understanding the ethical and holistic character of work‐based learning environments. In Heidegger's philosophy, this is shown by his analysis of the implications of our practical activity. Such activity is always related to others. When we make something it is for “some other”. It also makes up our “being in the world”. For the things around us are all part of our practical projects from chairs to hammers to computers. And, the purpose of all those practical projects are, ultimately, one's own. Hence, the radicality of Heidegger's philosophy. He argues that if we do not appreciate that these relations are fundamental to who we are as human beings (what Heidegger calls Dasein or “being there”) then we will fall into the worst excesses of mass society for Heidegger, and what the author defines in contemporary discourse as consumerism and marketization, summed up in the concept of “machination”. Indeed, there is no shyness here to name the culprit as capitalism, in its deleterious effects on education, training and the identities of learners and teachers, when it achieves hegemonic dominance over social and political discourses; or, indeed, when we are thrown into the turmoil of financial crisis. But this was not Heidegger's own particular target, and nor did he supply anything like an ethical philosophy in any of his writings.

This is not to say that the author ignores pragmatic solutions to the deleterious effects (p. 154) of the dominance of neo‐liberalism. On the contrary, there is a clear recommendation that if the various stakeholders focus upon quality and integrity within the work‐based learning setting (and the relations that ensue between learners, employers and academics) we may have the best outcomes we can. Even so, there would need to be more theoretical work to do on the nature of assessment, the promotion of the status of work‐based learning, the activities involved in such work and on how we research and evaluate such learning environments.

In such an ambitious and pathbreaking text there are bound to be some questions from those numerous audiences. To be fair, the author does a sterling job of trying to meet them head on. That Heidegger was no great educational thinker. That Heidegger had an ideological affinity with national socialism. That Heidegger was focusing on the analysis of Dasein and was not really concerned with work or work‐based learning environments.

Even though Heidegger's philosophy is very abstract and his terminology novel it does provide a shift in thinking that suits its employment in work‐based learning, and, indeed, as it has been taken up in the areas of nursing and the critique of IT. Therefore, one could imagine many other areas that it could be applied. This work shows the generality of application of Heidegger's ideas in any work‐based learning environment.

This new way of looking at learning arises because Heidegger offers another take on how we think of beings (through use rather than through mental representations). This means that the skills we develop and how we “know” what we are doing is going to go through some transformation. Heidegger's focus on tools, equipment and how they fit into our projects and daily life is clearly of interest to those who think that the mental/physical divide is fallacious. This impacts, in turn, on the relation between propositional knowledge (essays, exams) and competence (demonstration of skill) and, most pertinently, on the demarcation between general and vocational education itself. The text provides us with a way in to all of these issues.

However, whether the issue of Heidegger's relation to national socialism deserves space is questionable as it surely detracts from the issues at hand and their much needed elaboration. The same conclusion can be drawn from referring to Heidegger's pronouncements on the role of the university in his notorious Rector's address in 1933 which attempted to align concepts from his work to the ideology of the emerging national socialist state. Such an address could never be seen as simply a model of the university today, nor of the role of education without lengthy discussion.

It could be argued that each of these problems deserves a book length study and therefore the scope of the text is, arguably, too broad.

There is also the question of strategy. Attempting to articulate Heidegger's thought by extrapolating Heideggerian concepts and terms from Heidegger's works and then overlaying them onto work‐based learning and educational issues may contain recognizably Heideggerian terms, but it does not necessarily convince those who are familiar with Heidegger.

Examples of this are in the discussions around boredom and capacity which explore very interesting issues as to how Heidegger understands our daily practical activities and work, but fail to draw any insightful conclusions. Indeed, the discussions often return us to the everyday concepts which should have been jettisoned once we appreciated them according to Heidegger's phenomenological method, or re‐conceptualized in a way that would change practice. Instead, we have the conclusions that boredom should be avoided in the work‐based learner's activities (p. 122) or that capacity is maintained by continuous professional development (p. 152).

To be fair, I do not think the author wants us to draw these conclusions, but it is difficult to know what the precise confrontation of phusis (matter), techne (skill) and dunamis (capacity) does reveal here. Such a difficulty is also found in Heidegger's concept of temporality and the discussion around boredom. After such stimulating explorations it is a little anti‐climactic to find that the solutions are to be found in everyday practices in ways that would simply be considered as “ideal” or “utopian”, rather than in promoting a radical shift in our thinking and practice around work‐based learning.

So, in all, the strategy of the work suffers in that it does not fully decide on its audience and so omits a more robust dialogue on Heidegger's own concepts and vision. This is a shame as the presentation of Heidegger's views (particularly, the concepts of boredom and temporality) are broadly sound and it would be highly stimulating to see these interpretations pitted against other views of Heidegger and explored further in this area.

Perhaps the time approaches when such debates need working through, and it is to the author's immense credit that he has taken the step to develop a platform for this. There are a handful of texts on Heidegger and educational issues currently and none specifically on work‐based learning or studies. Heidegger's thinking has been applied to architecture, art, technology, textual studies, it is time it came home to that first analysis set out in Being and Time in 1927 of how we access the question of Being, practical activity. Paul Gibbs deserves real praise for going where others have, so far, dared to tread.

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