Practice in a dispersed professional community:a case study of associate lecturers at the Open University

Doctoral thesis OPEN
Cox, Graham (2006)
  • Publisher: Lancaster University

This thesis examines in depth the work of four associate lecturers at the Open University. Given that they see colleagues infrequently, it explores how they resource their practice, in what has been termed a dispersed community that lacks the social interaction associated with more traditional lecturing. This research identifies what knowledge resources and professional practices are used, and what the relationships are between these and the process of occupational identity-building. It also identifies other important facets of the working environment, such as the institution, faculty and department. The context of working as a part-time lecturer with the Open University is examined, and comparisons are made with other lecturing posts. Based on four in-depth case studies, the research considers the major components of a community of practice, such as participation and the negotiation of meaning. Given the dispersed nature of this community, the thesis further explores how routines and reifications of practice take on a more individualistic nature, not established within a social vacuum but in a social world where the organisation and students play a more important role than co-workers. Using activity system theory, network theory and power relationships, the research comes to a deeper and more integrated picture of associate lecturers. It concludes with postulations on how individual agency is an important aspect of practice in such a dispersed community.
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