In efforts to understand and promote creativity and innovation, conventional research approaches typically conceptualise learning within and for work in terms of two separate entities: subject and object. More specifically, the individual subject who is learning is considered to be independent of the work to be learned. While this dualist ontology has been questioned in various ways over the years (e.g., Dewey, 1938; van Manen, 1977), a growing number of practice-based approaches has intensified this critique during the past two decades (e.g., Billett, 2001; Lave & Wenger, 1991). According to these approaches, such a dualist conceptualisation is unable to capture key aspects of learning that only manifest themselves in actual work performance (Billett, 2010; Nicolini, Gherardi & Yanow, 2003). These practice-based approaches commonly emphasise the relation, rather than separateness, of subject and work. They have in common that they examine what actually happens when people enact everyday social practices in particular contexts, as well as the meanings ascribed to those practices.
However, while practice approaches regard subject and object as interrelated, several of these approaches continue to treat them as separate entities that become related through practice (Dall’Alba & Sandberg, in press). These approaches therefore still operate within the subject-object constellation, albeit in a more sophisticated manner than conventional approaches to work and learning. As a consequence, they potentially overlook central aspects of what distinguishes work-related learning.
In this paper, we engage with phenomenology in extending previous accounts of learning within and for work by bringing to the fore the manner in which practice is constituted through the entwinement of life with world. We elaborate a lifeworld perspective on researching work-related learning, which challenges the ontological assumption of a subject-object constellation in significant ways. This challenge is pertinent whether subject and object are seen as independent of each other (as in conventional approaches) or as becoming related during performance of work (in several practice-based approaches).