Colley, Helen and James, David (2005) Unbecoming tutors: towards a more dynamic notion of professional participation. In: ESRC TLRP seminar series Changing Teacher Roles, Identities and Professionalism, 16th May 2005, London, Uk. (Unpublished)

This paper presents a strand of our work-in-progress. We review both dominant and alternative academic constructs of what it means to be a professional. We are particularly interested in the way that these, like ‘common sense’ understandings, entail implicit assumptions about the permanence of professional status once it has been attained. This is not to suggest that professionalism is viewed as a static rather than dynamic process; but in exploring metaphors for the dynamism portrayed in different versions of professionalism, we found them inadequate for describing the experiences of the professional FE tutors who participated with us in the project Transforming Learning Cultures in Further Education (TLC). We found this to be the case even in the most well-known social theory of situated learning, which posits a largely unidirectional movement of novices from legitimate peripheral participation to full membership in a community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991).
However, our research revealed a number of instances of ‘conduct unbecoming’ on the part of some tutors over the four years of their participation in TLC. In particular, we focus on the career transformations of two tutors whose trajectories sharply challenge the common assumptions we identified. They moved from full membership and belonging in their professional community of practice to a renewed state of peripheral participation and, in one case, de-legitimated practice and eventual exclusion. These experiences suggest not becoming, but ‘unbecoming’. Although they are individual case stories, they help to illuminate a larger picture of high turnover and exodus among FE professionals (Hansard, 2001). We suggest that Bourdieusian theoretical concepts of habitus and field offer helpful conceptual tools for interpreting the multiplicities of professional identity, the impact of changing contexts on these tutors’ dispositions, and their increasingly marginal or marginalized positions in relation to the overlapping fields of their subject-discipline, the FE sector, and the broader social, economic and political context of their work and lives. Finally, we suggest a need for more dynamic concepts of participation in professional communities of practice. We begin by presenting a brief outline of the project.

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