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The Learning Conference 2003

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Language, Literacy, and Knowledge at Work: Learning Work in an Urban Hotel

Dr Judy Hunter.

This paper looks at how workplace knowledge is constructed through language and literacy practices on the job. Based on data from the In-Sites Canadian study of workplace literacy, it draws on current theories of interactive, situated learning through participation in communities of practice (Wenger 1998). It investigates the ways that language and multimodal literacy practices embody, shape, and are shaped by workplace knowledge. But it also leads into emerging questions in research and theorizing about knowledge and learning at work (e.g. Gerber and Lankshear 2000; Garrick and Rhodes 2000).

Following global trends, many Western nations' economic and educational policies centre around the concept of knowledge as a vital resource for national prosperity and social well-being. Knowledge is framed as a human resource; it is seen as an individualized commodity necessary to meet business and industry's changing needs. In this context, working knowledge is often narrowly defined as performative (Rhodes and Garrick, 2000). Workplaces attempt to quantify and document all job-related knowledge. Yet research findings at a large Canadian hotel in the In-Sites project, suggest that despite such attempts, working knowledge can often be tacit and individual, shared unofficially through co-workers, contested and reconfigured, made accessible through social relationships, or affected by autonomy and responsibility.

The implications of these findings for workplace and vocational literacy and language education go beyond the benefits of informal, situated learning. They point to the importance of working conditions, roles, and relationships at the interface of language, literacy, and knowledge.

Garrick, J. and Rhodes, C. (Eds.) (2000) Research and knowledge at work. London: Routledge.
Rhodes, C. and Garrick, J. (2000). Inside the knowledge works: Reviewing the terrain. In
J. Garrick and C. Rhodes, Eds. Research and knowledge at work, pp. 271-277. London: Routledge.
Gerber, R. and Lankshear, C. (Eds.) (2000). Training for a smart workforce. London: Routledge.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Cambridge: CUP.


Dr Judy Hunter  (New Zealand)
Senior Lecturer
School of Languages
Auckland University of Technology

Judy Hunter teaches language and literacy for work and teacher education in Auckland. She has also worked in Toronto, Canada and researched literacy in the workplace, schools and tertiary institutions.

  • Language
  • Literacy
  • Workplace
  • Knowledge

(Virtual Presentation, English)