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Title: Getting 'the feel' : craft learning as perceptual transformation
Author: Martin, Tom
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Becoming a wooden boat builder requires 'getting the feel' for the tools and materials of the trade by learning to perceive these objects in terms of their practical purposes in the workshop. In this project, I explore such learning from a sensory-ethnographic perspective, journaling how my own perceptual experience transforms over six months of work building boats. To supplement this first-person method, I carry out participant observations and long-form interviews with boat builders, paying particular attention to the ways in which newcomers to the workshop are guided through the learning process. I interpret the rich accounts of learning that result through concepts from philosophy, exploring how the perception that I record can be seen to demonstrate a fundamental mode of human understanding. Using Heidegger's idea of 'being-in-the-world', I show how learning entails a constant re-alignment of understanding through which individuals continually rediscover their human capacity for meaning-making. By investigating the link between perception and understanding in the craft workshop, I contribute to theoretical debates over the nature of human cognition while also illuminating the complex and often-overlooked cognitive processes that underpin practical work. My findings show how 'getting the feel' entails learning to perceive practical objects in new ways, recognising aspects of tools and materials that are invisible to the unaccustomed viewer. In some cases, 'the feel' involves specific combinations of objects appearing together in terms of work that they perform, rather than separately as discrete entities. In other cases, it entails tools and materials appearing to transform, splitting apart or combining in perception as their defining practices demand. Throughout the investigation, I show how understanding varies between the three workshops, and how each contains its own mechanisms for introducing the newcomer to situated ways of seeing and feeling. Despite their differences, however, the workshops share three main modes of learning: self-motivated exploration, expert guidance, and participation in a community designed to reproduce the skills and understanding it requires of its future members. By continually participating in each of these three modes, boat builders accumulate expertise as they move between settings and progress within them, 'getting the feel' for gradually-shifting constellations of materials, people, and practices.
Supervisor: Relly, Susan James ; Oancea, Alis Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Anthropology ; Applied philosophy ; Education