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Durham e-Theses
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Affording expertise: integrating the biological, cultural and social sites of disciplinary skills and knowledge

Webster, David S. (2002) Affording expertise: integrating the biological, cultural and social sites of disciplinary skills and knowledge. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The coherence of the concept of mental representations is increasingly in question, and hence accounts of expertise based on mental representation. I argue that such mental representational accounts are, at best, inadequate, and propose that turning to ecological psychology and affordance could provide the answer. However, there is no fully agreed understanding of affordance and so the thesis undertakes three main interrelated tasks: First, I review James J. Gibson's writings on affordance before setting out a revised account of affordance using Jacques Derrida's discussion of differance. Differance, as the generation of differences with the deferral of the meanings of those differences is adopted as a model for affordance. Second, affordance - as differance or difference and deferral - is taken as the minimal form of material agency. Drawing upon the process philosophy of Whitehead, agency is understood to be coextensive with material composition, and on this understanding an ontology of agency in medias res, considered as agency that develops within a pre-existing medium or milieu, is developed as an integrating framework within which biological, cultural and social phenomenon are combined in human agency in medias res. Third, human agency in medias res is explored through the process of acquiring expertise. As affordance is the primary ontology of all material reality. All human activity encompassing tools and instruments, representations and language is a concatenation of such constituents, hence expertise as the normative performance of disciplinary activities to disciplinary standards, is founded upon the proper concatenation of constituent affordance. Gaining expertise, meanwhile, precedes through the development of an ecological relation within activity that is founded upon specialised training and practice, and upon the social institution of someone who is socially legitimated as a master of their domain. By ecological relation, I mean to draw attention to the agency that develops and is sustained within the formation and maintenance of ritualised, instrumental, and discursive configurations that come to be identified as a particular domain of knowledge. The closely interrelated themes of affordance and agency in medias res are brought together in a case study of the development of expertise in archaeology by focusing on learning to identify (type) pottery, and on learning to excavate. In learning to type pottery, a novice is inculcated into the language-games of pottery. The formulation of typologies, meanwhile, shows how such language-games form, and how these language-games afford a semantic field that supports archaeologically mundane communications between archaeologists. The event of an excavation is used to focus on social dynamics seen from a perspective of agency in medias res and to demonstrate how wider social, economic and political influences intervene within archaeological discourse and practice to alter the agency of archaeologists in terms of the cognitive authority, and that of archaeology as discipline.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2002
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2012 11:38

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