I have just submitted an abstract for a conference with the title Reflective minds and communities. The conference will take place in Tartu at the end of August. Here are the title and text of the abstract
Reflection, tacit knowledge and the phronetic practitioner
Reflection is very often seen as a crucial component allowing practitioners of all sorts to develop professionally. The idea of the reflective practitioner is often championed to be the royal road towards development and improvement. In my presentation I will not argue against this view. Rather, I will try to point to the limits of reflection in the light of Polanyi’s idea of tacit knowledge. I will then argue for an alternative proposal based on the Aristotelian notion of phronesis (practical wisdom), where I would propose to re-locate reflection.
In discussing its limits I will posit that reflection cannot be of much help for practitioners and their development, if it is reduced to turning one’s own practice into an (apparently) transparent object of investigation. The main assumption behind strategies like this (and their appealing) is that it is only by making the implicit explicit that change and development can be achieved. Relying on Polanyi’s idea of tacit knowledge, I will show that the attempt to make the tacit explicit leads to abstraction and to a type of knowledge that is simply not actionable for practical purpose.
Although tacit knowledge is often seen as opaque and therefore scarcely accountable in the light of various standards of performance, it is far from being unreflective. One’s tacit knowledge is in fact constitutive of what we may call the “phronetic practitioner”. The phronetic practitioner is the one who is not merely reflective, but who, in the full engagement with her own practice, prioritizes and thus cultivates professional thoughtfulness, moral and professional autonomy, and all those forms of judgment-in-action that resist codification such as insight, intuition, acuity of vision, perception, the capacity of reading situations, which constitute the practitioner’s phronesis, that is, her practical wisdom.