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The 24th EGOS Colloquium 2008  

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Postdoctoral pre-colloquium workshop

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Sub-theme 14:

Revisiting Reflective Practice                                              



Giovan Francesco Lanzara
Università di Bologna (Italy)

Dvora Yanow
Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
(The Netherlands)

Call for papers

The elusive relationship between reflection and action has been the focus of attention in management and organizational studies for several years, due largely to the influential work of Donald Schön (Schön, 1983; 1991; Argyris & Schön, 1974; 1996). That work provokes questions around reflection-in-action that call for further inquiry. This sub-theme explores the meaning and scope of reflective practice, especially in light of renewed attention to questions of competence, knowledge-based work, knowledge management, and organizational design and innovation. The notions of 'error' and 'surprise' central to Schön's theorizing might be seen as relating to 'upsets' ranging from 'ordinary' or 'normal' to those of a more 'extreme' character, such as cognitive breakdowns, ethical infractions, or structural crises.

We are particularly interested in papers based on case studies or empirically grounded theorizing, although we also welcome more conceptual-philosophical treatments, engaging such questions as:

  • Are there qualities or conditions that might predispose one toward reflective practice? If so, can these qualities be learned?
  • Can practitioners produce and sustain reflective practice on their own or do they need the help of a skilful facilitator?
  • What is the underlying epistemology of Schön's approach? Can we observe reflective practice in action, 'as it happens'? How? Or is reflective activity inferred from what Schön called 'directly observable data'? Or, as a third possibility, does it need to be 'produced' by the observer through appropriate intervention?
  • What might empirical descriptions and inferences look like? How would they correspond with or vary from Schön's descriptions?

Experience and Schön's own interventions suggest that successful inquiry into reflective practice is highly dependent on the observer's idiosyncratic skills, and these are not easily reproducible or learned. This leads to further questions concerning epistemological criteria for inquiry:

  • Does the ability to 'observe something' also involve the ability to 'do something' in/to the situation or the setting? If so, what skills does an observer need in order to be able to engage the situation and elicit valid information?
  • Should the observer engage those observed as subjects, clients, partners, co-researchers? Should s/he be her/himself an 'agent-experient', in Sir Geoffrey Vickers' words?
  • What kind(s) of settings and practical experiments must be designed to observe reflection-in-action?
  • Is the empirical observation and description of a reflective practice a practice in its own right? If so, how can the problem of 'seeing' a reflective practice be kept separate from the practical question of actually 'making it happen'?

Schön's fine-grained descriptions of practitioners' 'conversations with materials' invite further theorizing of the critical role played by material artifacts, such as tools and media, the role of boundary objects in observing reflective practice, and the (re-)discovery of the 'materiality' of practical knowledge in organizations.

His work (1987, 1991) also engaged the teaching and learning of professional practices – design-related practices (planning and architecture) foremost among them, but also the use of computers in education, engineering, musical performance, and the teaching of music. We invite proposals for papers exploring other areas of practice, as well as the design of professional education curricula.
Finally, although we both take off from Schön's work in our own orientations toward reflective practice, we are also interested in papers that might take different approaches and depart from different traditions.

Key readings

Argyris, Chris & Donald A. Schön (1974): Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Argyris, Chris & and Donald A. Schön (1996): Organizational Learning II. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Schön, Donald A. (1983): The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.

Schön, Donald A. (1987): Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schön, Donald A. (ed.) (1991): The Reflective turn: Case Studies in and on Educational Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

About the convenors

Giovan Francesco Lanzara is professor of organization theory at the University of Bologna. His research focuses on processes of innovation and organizational learning. He has convened EGOS sub-theme tracks in Barcelona 2003, Berlin 2005, and Vienna 2007 and presented papers in Helsinki 2000 and Copenhagen 2004.

Dvora Yanow holds the Strategic Chair in Meaning and Method at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Her research has been shaped by an overall interest in the communication of meaning in organizational and policy settings. She has convened EGOS sub-theme tracks in Bergen 2006 and Vienna 2007 and presented papers in Warwick 1999, Ljubljana 2004, and Berlin 2005.