Bodily grounds of learning: embodying professional practice in biotechnology

Published August 2020 by Professor Jorgen Sandberg


  • Much of the literature on education for the professions conventionally has emphasised knowledge and skills acquisition for subsequent application in situations when they are required. Although knowledge and skills are necessary, disconnecting acquisition from application in this manner does not accord with how professionals learn.
  • Skilful practice is premised upon understanding when, how, why, and in what circumstances it is appropriate to utilise specific knowledge and skills in a continually shifting world. Separating acquisition from application leaves unanswered the question of how decontextualised knowledge and skills can be integrated into the particularities of skilful practice, as well as how they contribute to being and becoming professionals.
  • Previous studies turn attention to learning through the body, contributing to addressing an overemphasis on the ‘mind’ or intellect in learning at the expense of embodied knowing. Importantly, this shift in emphasis brings with it a concern for the situatedness of learning in context, which cannot adequately be accounted for by a disembodied mind or ‘doing’ things. A continuing area of neglect relates to the significance of the body in learning to enter the professions, especially outside teaching and teacher education.

What’s new

  • In this study, we explored learning with and through the lived body as final year undergraduate students endeavour to become professionals. We have attempted to do this by empirically exploring various textures of the students’ engagement, such as the ways they relied upon sensory perception and motility in responding to the tasks at hand, as well as ambivalences, ambiguities and emotions they experienced as they were learning.
  • Our philosophical-empirical account of what is entailed in learning to embody skilful performance significantly extends, differentiates, and further specifies what is implicated in the notion of ‘learning by doing’ in the broader literature.
  • The study demonstrates how learning is grounded in the lived body, as it is through our bodily engagement with world that we learn to appropriate and skilfully perform professional practice

Bottom line

  • Learning to become professionals entails not only learning specific knowledge and skills but, equally, learning ways of being professionals, through embodying the practice in question. In other words, it involves learning simultaneously to perform professional practice and ways of being the professional in question.
  • Learning to engage in professional practice requires negotiating the tension between the perceiving, moving, feeling body we have and the social, cultural body subject we aspire to be, namely, practitioners skilfully performing professional practice. This negotiation involves ‘losing oneself in the drama’ of practice through employing ‘the body I have’, while also committing the ‘body I am’.
  • Learning to become professionals – including learning to ‘do’ the performance and the associated intellectual development – occurs through a continuous dialectic between habitual and expressive layers of the lived body in performing professional practice.

Link to paper

Learn more about Practice and Process Studies​.