Body matters in vocational education: the case of the competently trained
Over the last decade, a competency-based approach to education and training has become widely used in a broad range of education and training contexts, most particularly, vocational education and training (VET). Among other things, this approach emphasizes the importance of knowledge and skill that is portable, visible and expressible. Various products have been developed (e.g. competencies, competency standards, Training Packages) to enable access to this knowledge and skill and secure its foundational role. Other knowledge and skill – that is, knowledge and skill that is situated and not easily visible and expressible – is seemingly rendered redundant. This paper discusses the role and significance of situated practises in competency-based training (CBT), most particularly embodied knowledge and tacit skills. Using empirical material collected in the course of a recent research project on CBT, the argument is made that the body, as currently constituted in VET products, is understood more as a symbolic/informational than material/physical entity. This understanding gives rise to a ‘thin’ conception of vocational competence and, sometimes, a thin practise of developing this competence. More broadly, the body is a critical site of contestation between radically different goals (e.g. industrial/educational, global/local). Bodily specificity (e.g. tacit skills, experienced judgement) can be mobilized to challenge the universalizing impulses of CBT. Indeed, this specificity completes or is necessary to these impulses. It plays a constitutive role in the practice of vocational education and training and could, with profit, be more fully recognized and supported in its policy.