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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Transforming Learning Cultures in Further Education

Grant reference: L139251025

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Conference paper/presentation details

TLRP: Learning to labour with feeling: class, gender and the reform of habitus in vocational education and training
New space has opened up to talk about emotion in relation to education, training and employment, although until recently it has routinely been hidden in these spheres. Indeed, in patriarchal society, emotion has typically been considered the enemy of reason. Gendered, hierarchical constructs of different types of knowledge and practice have traditionally privileged ‘tidy’ androcentric rationality over ‘messy’ feminised emotionality. These constructs are inscribed in subject disciplines in enduring ways, and maintain deeply stereotyped ‘choices’ of studies and career aspirations among girls and boys, from an early age through to post-compulsory education and training (Francis, 1996, 2002). Today, however, there is growing interest in the ‘feminine’ side of learning and work: a shift that not only makes visible, but celebrates emotionality and human connection. Already we have seen the introduction of ‘emotional literacy’ and related initiatives such as ‘circle time’ into schools (Sharp, 2003). But how has this change manifested itself in learning for work, especially in vocational education and training (VET)? One way in which it has been epitomised can be seen in the spread of mentoring. As it has increasingly been used to replace more formal training and educational processes, mentoring has simultaneously undergone a process of feminisation, moving from paternalistic to maternalistic models of practice (Colley, 2003). The essence of mentoring is today promoted above all as its aspiration to personal relationship, based on the self-sacrificing devotion of the mentor, and her dedication to the reform of her mentee through the power of professional, platonic love. Another key signal is the movement to promote ‘emotional intelligence’, in which Goleman (1996) has been the leading academic proponent, and Anita Roddick’s ‘Body Shop’ perhaps the most shining example. Goleman argues that emotional skills and competencies need to be recognised alongside, and connected to, other areas of competence in order to maximise productivity in the workplace. These ideas have not only been promoted in the realm of business management, but they also underpin the introduction of key skills, and particularly communication skills, within the post-16 curriculum (Cameron, 2000). What does this mean for the issues posed by James (1989) in the quote that opens this article? Are her concerns now passé, since considerable attention appears to be paid to emotional skills and their value to business? In this paper, I use a sociological perspective to explore the possibility that, although unprecedented attention is certainly being paid to emotion in learning and work, this may still beg a number of other questions. What does this trend mean for traditional caring occupations, where emotion continues to be an unrecognised aspect of gender-stereotyped womens’ work? How do people learn to use feelings in VET, and to what uses are emotions put in employment contexts? If emotional intelligence has become a highly visible category, are there aspects of emotion that become or remain obscured within the dominant discourse? And what are the implications for VET?
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Author H Colley

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