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Educational Philosophy and Theory

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Education and Broad Concepts of

Christopher Winch
Education and Professional Studies, Kings College, London.
Published online: 27 Mar 2013.

To cite this article: Christopher Winch (2014) Education and Broad Concepts of Agency, Educational
Philosophy and Theory, 46:6, 569-583, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2013.779211

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Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2014
Vol. 46, No. 6, 569583,

Education and Broad Concepts of Agency

Education and Professional Studies, Kings College, London

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Drawing on recent debates about the relationship between propositional and practical knowl-
edge, this article is concerned with broad concepts of agency. Specifically, it is concerned with
agency that involves the forming and putting into effect of intentions over relatively extended
periods, particularly in work contexts (called, for want of a better term, project manage-
ment). The main focus of interest is thus not on know-how in the sense of ability to
perform types of tasks but on the ability to form and carry through projects. Much, although
by no means all, of the limited literature on this topic assumes that such abilities are largely
independent of social interaction. This article will challenge that assumption. The article con-
cludes with a reflection on the implications of an adequate account of project management
ability for contemporary debates on the relationship between propositional and practical
knowledge, and examines the implications for vocational and professional education that
prepares people for this type of broadly based agency for their personal development.

Keywords: agency, intention, know-how, project, education, ability

Introduction: The General Problem

Debates about know-how and its relationship to knowing that, both in epistemology
and in philosophy of education, have tended to be about skills or competences, cate-
gories of agency associated with the performance of types of tasks usually involving
identifiable and discrete actions, often of a manual or coordinative nature. This is as
true of contemporary debate as it is about earlier work deriving from the pioneering
example of Ryle. Indeed, Aristotles discussion of techne was focused on this category
of agency, although the discussion of phronesis is explicitly framed in terms of running
a household or a state (Aristotle, 1925, pp. 141143). Aristotle does not, however, go
into detail concerning what such broad agency involves, apart from the exercise of
virtue (by contrast, see Kerschensteiner, 1901).
The concern of this article is with a category of agency that writers such as Karl
Marx and Simone Weil have drawn attention to in which characteristically human

2013 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia

570 Christopher Winch

powers are brought together in what is sometimes regarded as the fusion of intellec-
tual and manual capabilities in the pursuit of relatively extensive and self-contained
goals (which is not to say that the exercise of skill is not apt for moral evaluation)
(Marx, 1887/1970; Weil, 1949/1955a, 1955b). This category may itself be divided
into two broad subcategories. One of these has received quite extensive attention,
namely that of autonomy, or a persons potential to choose ends in life or a course
of life and to devise means to pursue such ends (see Raz, 1986; White, 1990;
Callan, 1993; Winch, 2005, for discussions of autonomy). While it is clear that
such a form of agency requires skill and is apt for evaluation in moral terms, it is
also largely concerned with a life course rather than with the pursuit of particular
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projects. The other category of broad agency is the particular concern of this article
and is focused on what one might somewhat misleadingly call project management.
Crudely speaking, this involves the ability to make plans and put them into effect.
In Marxs words:
We presuppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spi-
der conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to
shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distin-
guishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect
raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. (Marx,
1887/1970, p. 178)
However, surprisingly little philosophical attention has been paid to this category of
agency, given its often mentioned importance in the characterization of human agen-
tive powers and its obvious importance in a range of professional and vocational con-
texts. In fact, Marxs statement of this distinctive form of human agency gives rise to
several questions that cry out for philosophical clarification. The most important of
these are:

(1) To what extent are planning and execution discrete activities only con-
tingently related?
(2) Is this kind of agency characteristically solitary or social?
(3) What, if any, are the differences between manual and intellectual aspects
of project management?
(4) What attributes does a person require in order to successfully be an
agent of this type?

This article aims to provide some answers to these questions and to relate them to
current concerns in vocational and professional education. First, though, it may be
worthwhile to say something about the ethical and political significance of this type of
agency. Marx considered it to be of the utmost ethical and political importance in
providing an account of what it is to be a human being rather than a creature of lim-
ited sentience. Simone Weil, like Marx, saw a close relationship between project man-
agement and the division of labour, although it will be argued in this article that these
are two distinct ideas. In a world where people have to labour in order to live, it is
the ability to control their lives by organizing their own labour that provides them
Education and Broad Concepts of Agency 571

with their dignity and humanity and, for the religiously minded thinker like Weil, it
also provides them with an intimation of the world beyond immediate necessity (see
also Kerschensteiner, 1906/1968).
Both authors appear to have associated the growing specialization of human
activity after the decline of hunter-gathering societies with a progressive loss of this
characteristic of human labour. With the division of labour, one begins to be con-
fined to certain roles within society and this leads to a decline in the ability to act
on the world. However, it may well remain the case that, within the growing divi-
sion of labour, the scope for project management remains strong. To take an
example from economic activity, it is possible that the whole of the labour process,
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from conception to evaluation of the finished product, can, in a fully fledged arti-
sanal economy, remain within the power of the artisan. This is not the case with
the factory system of production. In fact, Marx (1887/1970, Part IV) himself
charts, through the move from artisanal to factory production, how the intellectual
aspect of labour is progressively squeezed from human economic activity. He
accepted Smiths thesis that in the extreme fragmentation of the labour process,
where the intellectual and manual aspects of agency are completely separated from
each other:
The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations,
of which the effects are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same,
has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in
finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He natu-
rally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as
stupid and ignorant as it is possible for human creature to become. (Smith,
1776/1981, Book V, pp. 785786).
Smith here refers to something distinct from the division of labour. The division of
labour is concerned with specialization in the fulfilment of human needs and wants.
Some will hunt and others will gather. Smith is referring to the fragmentation of the
labour process in which an extended activity, whether or not carried out under the divi-
sion of labour, is fragmented into such small sequences that it is difficult to attribute
any skill or judgement to their execution by an agent (Williams, 2000). Unfortunately,
the term division of labour is taken to include both of these very different phenom-
However, project management as an agentive category remains under the division
of labour even though it cannot survive the thoroughgoing fragmentation of the
labour process, which itself is a matter of degree. We need therefore to distinguish
between the division of labour, which is a feature of all human societies since the hun-
ter-gathering period, and the fragmentation of the labour process, which is a specific
product of Taylorized and factory forms of production. In the near-universal division
of labour, individual human labour becomes specialized into different sectors such as
farming and manufacturing and, within sectors, into occupations such as bricklaying
and nursing. It does not follow from the existence of a division of labour at the level
of an occupation that there need be a significant fragmentation of the labour process.
The latter phenomenon involves the breaking down of the sequence whereby
572 Christopher Winch

something is created, originating at the planning stage and finishing at evaluation of

quality, and including, along the way, all the coordinative, communicative and
manipulative operations that are required to bring the object of the labour process to
Smiths example of a pinmaking factory illustrates the fragmentation of the labour
process. A single pinmaker could produce a complete pin; a dozen individuals, how-
ever, can each carry out a small number, or even one of the operations necessary to
produce a pin with much greater speed than the single individual. The 12 will, how-
ever, need to be supervised by a line manager to ensure discipline and coordination
of the whole process. Elsewhere in the Wealth of nations, Smith draws attention to the
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division between the invention of a product (his example is the watch), the devising
of machinery to produce it and the executive functions of making it (Smith,
1776/1981, Book I, pp. 139140). A full picture of the fragmentation of the labour
process will then take account of the inventing and initial planning activity, the
control and coordination of production and, although Smith does not mention it,
evaluation of the quality of what is produced.
It can be seen that this schema involves not only the fragmentation of the physi-
cal acts necessary to produce something (as in the pinmaking example), but also a
splitting away of what might be called the intellectual functions inherent in the
labour process from the manual ones. While the use of this terminology is under-
standable, it is prone to give rise to philosophical problems in understanding what
is involved in broad agency whereby someone makes a plan, puts it into effect and
evaluates the result. The most obvious mistake made is to conceptualize the whole
of the labour process in terms of a series of skills that are performed in an appro-
priate order. For the fragmentation of the labour process to work, it is then neces-
sary to inculcate the skills required for each individual to play his or her proper
role in the whole of the labour process. Some of these will be manual, some intel-
lectual and some social, but they will all be skills. We are by now all familiar with
promiscuous skill talk about social skills, intellectual skills, planning skills,
management skills and even creative skills. The conceptual reduction of agency
to bundles of associated skills has now become so familiar in the workplace and in
the associated management, human resources and business discourse that feeds off
it, that we accept it reluctantly while being dimly aware that a profound mistake
has been made in this crude conceptual reductionism, which prevents us seeing
clearly what is involved in agency once one gets beyond the physical execution of
simple types of task. However, the material for clarification of this area lies within
our conceptual resources, even though we have failed, at least in the UK and
USA, to make full use of them.

The Prerequisites for Independent Action: Planning, Control and Evaluation

In order to provide such a satisfactory account of project management, it is necessary
to answer the four questions posed above. The first of these is:
Education and Broad Concepts of Agency 573

To What Extent Are Planning and Execution Discrete Activities Only Contingently Related?
In order to account properly for project management, this needs to be rephrased as
to what extent are planning, coordination, control and execution discrete activities
only contingently related? The kind of agency that we are interested in does not just
involve a discrete episode of planning followed by a series of episodes of execution.
An important aspect of the deliberative nature of the carrying out of a project is the
fact that its oversight is not just a prior event, but infuses the project as a whole. This
applies to the planning as well as to the other aspects mentioned above. Furthermore,
it is a mistake to characterize the activities of planning, control, coordination and eval-
uation as skills that can be identified with specific physical or mental acts. They are
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not like that and it is a mistake to describe them in terms of planning skills, evalua-
tion skills or whatever, even though planning may involve the exercise of skills. Here
is an example from Simone Weil that illustrates the implicit nature of much of the
activity that we undertake that could be called planning, which is, nevertheless, man-
ifested in skilful performance.
A happy young woman, expecting her first child, and busy sewing a layette,
thinks about sewing it properly. But she never forgets for an instant the
child she is carrying inside her. (Weil, 1949/1955a, p. 89)
The issue is one that philosophers of education working on the nature of teach-
ing identified in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. Schoenberger, 1991). Teaching cannot
be identified with any particular set of activities, although we have no difficulty in
saying that teaching is an occupation with its own characteristic criteria of success
or failure. Teaching consists of a range of activities, but there does not seem to be
just one sufficient set of those activities that someone needs to perform in order to
satisfy the description of being someone who teaches successfully. Even an individ-
uals satisfaction of that sufficient set does not guarantee that they are teaching,
because teaching cannot be simply characterized as a set of activities, but as an
occupation with aims that have to be satisfied, and the simple performance of a set
of activities does not guarantee that result. This is true of many, if not most, occu-
pational activities.
Commentators following Ryle have described thinking, understanding and a range
of activities as polymorphous, meaning that they can take many forms, but the
description also applies to occupational activities of the kind that we are considering.
This should not be surprising, as the kinds of attributes of extended action that we
are considering can both plausibly be taken to be closely related to thinking and also
be described as examples of what is meant by thinking. However, the range of what
Ryle (1979) calls adverbial verbs extends beyond such more abstract attributes to
include such activities as obeying, planning and communicating, for which there is no
necessary or sufficient set of first order activities that are criterial for the activity in
question. These are not normally identified with thinking or understanding, but are
closely related in the sense that they do, when carried out well, manifest intentional
rationality, which is related to more than the mere physical carrying out of tasks. But
the problem with giving an account of polymorphous action extends beyond the fact
574 Christopher Winch

that there is no such one sufficient set, as it could not be the case that several
sufficient sets, each consisting of no more than mastery of bundles of associated skills,
would be sufficient to allow adequate understanding of polymorphous activities.
Occupational activity such as project management thus cannot be completely charac-
terized in terms of the exercise of skills, or even skilful acts, but needs to be consid-
ered in terms of a range of abilities that cannot be captured as the performance of
identifiable tasks.
In order to be clearer about this, it may be helpful to take the case of planning, a
critical component of project management. There are many characteristic activities
associated with planning, but planning itself is not to be identified with any one of
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them. It is a clear case of what Ryle (1979), in his later work on knowing how, calls
an adverbial verb or a type of action that must necessarily be carried out through
other actions (Ryle, 1979, chap. 1). Planning may involve, for example, making notes
and diagrams, but even if this is done with the intention of putting what is foreshad-
owed in the diagram into effect, one would not say that someone was planning an
activity either if they did not demonstrate the required degree of seriousness in what
they were doing or if they failed to show that they were in any way concerned with
putting the plan into effect in subsequent action.
Likewise, someone who failed to draw a diagram prior to action might, neverthe-
less, owing to the seriousness and the deliberative nature of the way in which they
pursued the project, be said to have planned the project and to be engaged in putting
the plan into effect. Ascription to someone of the activity of planning is unlike the
ascription to them of a skill as it is importantly bound up with the way in which they
do something, or, better, the way in which they do a number of interconnected things
that are connected with an identifiable, if not immediate, goal. The way in which they
do these things may be connected with other identifiable activities such as drawing a
diagram, but it need not be and, in fact, cannot be identified with such activities.
The fact that these abilities (to plan, to coordinate, etc.) are closely connected to
the way in which certain things are done, how well they are done, and to the fact that
they are only to be properly understood in the context of broader sequences of action
that are held together in a certain unity, usually through the identification of a main
purpose of the sequence as a whole, distinguishes them from skills or the mastery of
technique and thus makes clear that conventional philosophical accounts of know-
how are inadequate for dealing with them. They are not to be identified with any par-
ticular activities, nor is the carrying out of activities associated with them sufficient for
the ascription of these abilities. Coordination of the building of a house, for example,
is characteristically associated with the exercise of certain skills, but their exercise is
not what coordination consists of, let alone successful or excellent coordination. It
also requires seriousness, attention and the bearing in mind of the goal of the whole
sequence of activity. Ryles earlier work rightly drew attention to the importance of
these attributes in skilful performance, but they are intrinsic, not just desirable
features of project management.
We can, therefore, answer our question by saying that planning and execution (and
by implication, coordinating, controlling, evaluating and execution) are not
contingently but internally related, not just in the sense that execution cannot occur
Education and Broad Concepts of Agency 575

without planning, but also in the sense that planning cannot be merely identified with
activities that the agent carries out prior to execution, but is, in some sense, character-
istic of the way in which the project is carried out. The pregnant woman, in Weils
example, preparing herself for her childs imminent birth, need not be engaged in
planning activities but she is nevertheless making preparations and preparing herself
for the forthcoming event and, in this sense, her deliberate activity is guided by a goal
which is implicit in nearly all of what she is actually doing.

Is This Kind of Agency Characteristically Solitary or Social?

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The ways in which Karl Marx and Adam Smith characterize the relationship between
planning and execution suggests that such agency is primarily solitary. The spider
spins her web through instinctual mechanisms; the human agent imagines an end
state and brings it about. For Smith, the invention of a watch is the result of long
thought which can then be put into effect within a fragmented labour process.
Arendts homo faber is essentially a solitary like Marxs craftsman, who forms a plan
for the creation of an artefact and then puts it into effect on his own (Arendt, 1958).
While these descriptions may be true of some planned activities they are seriously
misleading if we think that they are in any way an adequate characterization of delib-
erative activity. To start with a conceptual point, planning is not solely, or even at all,
a visualization (or audialization) of the outcome intended but is better conceived of in
many cases as a kind of conversation through which the lineaments of the end
intended emerge. If this dialogue is, in fact, a soliloquy, then we can characterize the
process as a solitary one. If it is not, then obviously, we do not. But even in the for-
mer case, the ability to soliloquize and to engage in judgement and extended acts of
judgement is one that depends on a conceptual grasp of what is being intended and
hence on the language in which those concepts are expressed, and this in itself, as
Wittgenstein showed, is an individual ability irreducibly based on the human capacity
for communication with other humans. It is not possible for a solitary human, ab initio,
to learn a language, because it is not coherent to suppose that the normative structure
necessary for language can arise outside a context where the concept of a norm has
no purchase (see Malcolm, 1990; Verheggen, 1995, for a detailed defence of this
point). But even if we ignore this important point, it is just empirically the case that
much of our work in managing projects is a cooperative effort and could not be other-
wise. It is, among other factors, the influence of the Smithian fragmentation of labour
picture that leads us to ignore this.
In non-fragmented labour, the social nature of significant parts of the activity is
unavoidable. Simone Weils description of a group of construction workers discussing
and resolving a problem that has arisen on their site is a good example.
a team of workers on a production-line under the eye of a foreman is a
sorry spectacle, whereas it is a fine sight to see a handful of workmen in the
building trade, checked by some difficulty, ponder the problem each for
himself, make various suggestions for dealing with it, and then apply unani-
mously the method conceived by one of them, who may or may not have
576 Christopher Winch

any official authority over the remainder. At such moments the image of a
free community appears almost in its purity. (Weil, 1955b, p. 95)
In this instance, an obstacle to the fulfilment of a plan has arisen and needs to be
resolved by action that addresses the immediate difficulty. This is done through dis-
cussion involving the consideration of alternatives and the advantages and disadvan-
tages that are associated with each, leading to agreement on a solution. This is how
many plans are laid, modified and reviewed, and the process is a social one in which
the ability to work with others on problems with an intellectual, as well as a purely
manual content, is vital. If this is the case then how are we to characterize these abili-
ties? Is it that Weils construction workers have the requisite social skills to work
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together? No doubt this is part of the explanation, but it cannot be by any means the
The workers must be able to listen to and deliberate on what their colleagues are
saying, and they need to speak articulately and clearly in order for their own views to
receive a hearing. But they also need to treat their colleagues as individuals in a com-
mon enterprise whose views are worthy of respect and consideration and whose pro-
posals merit taking seriously. The attributes of treating colleagues and their proposals
in this way cannot be reduced to the possession of skill as individual mastery of a
technique; it is also a matter of attitude, character and seriousness in the way in which
the common enterprise is approached.
If this perspective is right then the agency associated with project management can-
not be adequately be described in most cases without taking into account its social
nature, and the possession of such capacity for agency is to a considerable degree a
moral capacity as well as one that requires a range of skills.

What, If Any, Are the Differences Between Manual and Intellectual Aspects of Project
As noted earlier, the separation of the manual and intellectual aspects of work has
been thought to have a dehumanizing effect, reducing the manual worker to being, in
effect, no more than an automaton. In Smiths watchmaker example, it is clear what
this separation looks like. However, what does it look like when manual and intellec-
tual work are actually united with each other? After all, it is not necessarily the case
that the same worker does some intellectual work and then does some manual work
as a result. We have already seen reason to reject that picture as not being fully accu-
rate. We have also noted that many of the functions of work deemed intellectual,
such as planning and coordinating, are not to be identified with skills, although they
are not merely performed in ones head.
The suggestion made here is that it is a necessary feature of the project manage-
ment aspect of work that individuals take responsibility for what they do in the
context of awareness of what constitute standards of excellence in the area in which
they operate, which in turn requires that the aims of the occupation being practised
are recognized. These requirements are very significant and need further explanation.
Project management involves the successful carrying through of a plan from
Education and Broad Concepts of Agency 577

conception to evaluation. But this simple description belies much of the complexity
involved. Planning in this sense may well involve formulation of an intention to do
something followed by carrying out of that plan. But it does not follow that there is
always a sequence: planimplementationevaluation. It may well be that these pro-
cesses are intimately connected with each other, so that, for example, planning may
be implicit in the early modelling of an artefact and may continue as the artefact
evolves, taking account of previously unencountered difficulties with the material, the
context of manufacture or the exigencies of the customer.
These aspects of the activity may undoubtedly involve sequences of ratiocination,
soliloquy, calculation and inference, but it does not follow that such activity has to be
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in the head rather than on paper, in conversation with others or implicit in the
actual work of construction, or that it has to be carried out completely prior to, rather
than as an accompaniment to, the exercise of physical skills. The project management
features of work are as much characterized by the way that it is carried out as in spe-
cific intellectual activities. Even activities that are commonly characterized as intellec-
tual (i.e. in the head) may be carried out in a non-intellectual way, i.e. without
thought or care, but for the successful carrying through of a project it is highly likely
that the activity will be carried out with thought, whether that means thoughtfully or
through specific off-task ratiocinative soliloquizing, experimenting, rumination or con-
sultation, which of course must also be done in a manner directed with care to the
task in hand (Ryle, 1979, chaps. 2 and 3).
Seen in this way, the manual/intellectual distinction, although important, takes a
slightly different form from a sharp separation between internal pondering and
subsequent physical action. In the first place, the complex and articulated nature of
project management means that a series of related activities, themselves composed
of many different actions, is involved. The relationship between the parts, some of
which may involve actions that would be readily recognized as intellectual (such as
the solitary and non-verbalized articulation of a sequence of reasoning directed to
the accomplishment of the task) and some which are more obviously manual such
as the shaping of a piece of clay, have to be understood as a whole in order to
grasp what is being done and how well it is being done. Secondly, such intellectual
activity as described above can also take an overt, even social, form on occasion
and, in cooperative project management, often does. Thirdly, the distinction
between thoughtful and careless agency cannot be captured by the manual/intellec-
tual distinction. There can be careless internal soliloquizing and thoughtful shaping
of the clay. Imagination may be exercised in an undisciplined way unrelated to the
aims of the project, although consisting of imaging and free association of words
and concepts, or it may be exercised in a disciplined way, often manifested in the
originality and flair with which a specific physical task or series of task problems
are addressed and successfully dealt with (see Ryles own discussion in 1949,
chap. VIII). As we shall see, project management is to be understood in terms of
sequenced, articulated activity conceived of and normally carried to a conclusion as
a whole, rather than in consideration of the nature of specific tasks, be they manual
or intellectual, that compose part of this broader picture.
578 Christopher Winch

What Attributes Does a Person Require in Order to Be Able to Successfully Be an Agent of

This Type?
This question has been partly answered in the discussion above. Such a person must
be capable of more than independent action, but someone who can, either singly or
in concert with others, form a plan, put it into effect and be responsible for the qual-
ity of the results. Such a person is capable of integrated manual and intellectual
labour in the broad sense outlined. In addition, it follows that if such a person cares
about what they are doing they will pay attention, worry over details, and be persis-
tent and considerate. They way in which they do what they do is an aspect of their
character even if, in a restricted sense, it only exhibits what Kerschensteiner
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(1901/1964) calls the bourgeois virtues. Skilful and praiseworthy performances do

then express important features of a persons character even if a technique cannot by
its nature do so. Even the bare minimal exercise of a technique by an individual may
not exhibit such characteristics.
However, if the management of a project involves coordination and cooperation
with others, then other moral qualities are called into play, as we have already noted.
We can see therefore not only that such a person possesses moral attributes but that
their active and rational capacities cannot accurately be captured simply by the idea
that they form a plan and then put it into effect. The relationship between planning
and action has more of a dialectical quality than the Humean hydraulic model of
action suggests (Hume, 173940/1978, Part III). The planning does not set into
motion a more or less mechanical sequence of physical actions, but is to be under-
stood not only as an initiating, but also as an ongoing aspect of the carrying through
of the project.

Occupational Capacity
The discussion of broad agency is relevant to the concept of occupational capacity.
Occupational capacity involves a broad sphere of operation and the opportunity to
plan and to carry through a range of occupationally relevant activities. By occupation
is meant here a recognized category of economic activity organized within the division
of labour. Although it is dangerous to be essentialist about occupations, practice of an
occupation in the modern European sense typically involves project management
related to a recognized category of ends to be achieved. There is thus a goal or related
range of goals that define the ends of an occupation, which the practitioner has to
take responsibility in achieving, usually in coordination with others. This capacity for
project management, together with an understanding of the occupational field as a
whole, marks a minimum occupational capacity. Typically, within a broadly defined
and clearly articulated field of occupations, such as is to be found under the German
conception of a Beruf, it will be expected that occupational capacity (berufliche
Handlungsfahigkeit) will encompass an understanding of the economic sector in which
the occupation is situated, an appreciation of the wider consequences for society of
practice of the occupation, and a sufficiently systematic understanding of the
principles underlying the practice of the occupation to allow the practitioner to follow,
understand and make use of change and innovation (Hanf, 2006). Such occupations
Education and Broad Concepts of Agency 579

typically have a wide scope, the German system of VET, for example, recognizing
some 350 occupations (Ausbildungsberufe) across the economy. The ability to manage
a project is a necessary condition of occupational capacity. Indeed, there is a loose
conceptual link between the narrowness and specialization of operations within a work
context and the opportunities for the articulated type of agency I have described as
project management to be available. In general, although not necessarily universally,
the narrower the scope of the project, the narrower the opportunities for the broad
kind of agency I have been describing to be available.
For example, the opportunities afforded by the project of building a straight wall
are fewer than those involved in the construction of a complex brick structure, which
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are, in turn, fewer than those offered by the project of building a house. The opportu-
nities offered by projects carried out in controlled and restricted conditions are fewer
than those involved in working in a variety of conditions; for example, building a
structure in a hall in a college is a lesser challenge than doing so in the open, and
both are less of an intellectual, affective and moral challenge than the one posed by
building the structure in the open air under financial, temporal, social and safety con-
straints of the kind that are typical of the practice of an occupation. The complexity
and variety of projects tend to vary directly with the extent to which they involve a
broad range of activities and also with the extent to which they involve the completion
of a recognizable artefact with a recognized social purpose (e.g. a house rather than a
wall; a plumbing system rather than a stretch of piping; a book rather than a stretch
of prose; successful healing of a patient rather than the dressing of a wound; a year of
farming rather than the planting of turnips). Although not clearly articulated, MacIn-
tyres (1981) concept of a practice may well seek to capture this element of outcome
through the realization of internal goods of a certain level of complexity and com-
pleteness rather than the production of single artefacts or services. Project manage-
ment becomes more of a unified form of agency to the extent that the project is
complex, has a relatively defined and recognized goal, encompasses a wide range of
operations and involves freedom from direct managerial control. When the latter two
conditions are present, the ability to manage a project becomes a central component
of occupational capacity.

Polymorphousness and Transfer: Implications for Vocational and

Professional Education
It is now time to apply these philosophical points to the consideration of how know-how
is actually understood in vocational and professional education. Those aspects of occu-
pational capacity that are called, in Germany, Fahigkeiten, are good examples of poly-
morphous concepts or what Ryle (1979, chap. 1) called adverbial verbs. They include,
as already noted, the ability to plan, control, coordinate and evaluate. They do not have
any single identifiable physical manifestation in the way that a skill does, although it is
unfortunately customary to talk of them in English as skills. A consequence is to misun-
derstand the nature of their polymorphousness. It may seem that, because say, coordi-
nating, is not one singly identifiable type of activity, but something that characterizes
the ways in which a whole range of activities are carried out, it is a transferable skill.
580 Christopher Winch

One could arrive at this view by noting that since someone can coordinate in
one occupational context and because coordination is expected in many different
occupational contexts, it is therefore a special kind of transferable skill. But not
only is this a non-sequitur, it is also a misunderstanding of the concept of transfer-
ability. It is, of course, true that someone who is able to plan in one occupational
context may find it easier to do so in others because in other contexts similar abil-
ities, attitudes and virtues are required to those acquired in the original context,
but at the most they would make it easier, not be sufficient for successful action.
That is the limit of their transferability. They are not skills because they are
aspects of ways in which abilities such as skills within project management are
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exercised, rather than skills themselves. They partially define what it is to be skilful
as opposed to merely possessing a skill.
Skills, too, can be transferable in the sense in which the task type to which they are
suited may be relevant in more than one occupational context. However, this means
that a similar class of actions is required in the second context to that required in the
first. In the case of the polymorphous abilities, there is no class of actions that can be
identified with the ability. We can thus make no assumptions about the direct trans-
ference of ability.
The case of the virtues exercised in occupational contexts is similar to the issue of
project management, but contains important differences. Virtues, like polymorphous
activities, are aspects of the way in which actions and articulated sequences of actions
are performed. What is more, they can be exercised in relation to polymorphous activ-
ities as well as to skills as when we say, for example, that someone planned his car-
pentry activity with great diligence, as well as chiselling with great attention to detail.
Unlike polymorphous abilities, we do expect a certain unity in the virtues across the
different spheres of a persons life. Thus, the quality of patience, once acquired, is
normally expected to be exercised across a range of activities and not just those that
are closely related. Occupational capacity thus encompasses these different categories
of action, brought together by the common purpose of producing high-quality exam-
ples of what the occupation has as its end or telos.
Vocational education worthy of the name involves broad forms of agency. There
are different reasons for this. The alienation of intellectual and manual work is
itself a spiritual evil for someone subject to it. Socially and politically, to the extent
that ones capacity for agency is limited, one becomes more dependent in a subor-
dinate way on others. There are economic as well as personal, social and political
consequences. An economy configured around narrowly defined skills involving the
practice of technique to no more than a threshold level, limits the kind of product
and service that can be realized. The lack of individual capacity for self-manage-
ment enhances the need for managerial hierarchy and further fragmentation of the
labour process. The kind of process that leads to the development of individuals
with narrow skills can more properly be called training rather than vocational
education. This is not to say that training should not have an important part to
play in programmes of vocational education: it is to suggest that they should be a
part rather than the whole.
Education and Broad Concepts of Agency 581

The Liberal Educational Aspects of Project Management

In this final section I want to move from a consideration of the ability to manage a
project to a consideration of its broader educational implications. In managing a pro-
ject one necessarily manages oneself and discovers aspects of oneself. One has to orga-
nize oneself to see the project through. In Simone Weils example of a young woman
sewing a layette one sees the ability to take responsibility gladly, to understand a pur-
pose in a significant part of ones life and to direct ones life towards a fulfilment of
that purpose. The undertaking of a difficult project such as building a house as an
apprentice bricklayer involves organizing oneself so as to carry through the project,
testing oneself against difficulties, discovering how well one is able to coordinate ones
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work with that of others and whether one has it in oneself to meet the standards of
excellence set by the occupation. Self-discovery is a component of such extended
activities and is the more potent to the extent that the activities are reflected upon in
the light of what is important to oneself.
My ability to carry through a project is not only an ability to bring that project to
fruition but inter alia my ability to do so. It involves the utilization and development
of internal resources connected particularly with the second order or adverbial
aspects of action whose successful practice, as we saw, involves self-control, the
development of attention, patience and foresight and, in many circumstances, the
ability to anticipate and to take into account the needs, intentions and actions of other
people. Such virtues and internal resources do not automatically translate into such
capacities in all areas of life, but they are critical in enabling an agent to widen the
scope of his or her activities in such ways. In doing this in one area, one may learn
enough about ones abilities to do so in other areas of life and in other forms of work
by coming to a greater understanding of ones own character and how that is develop-
ing. In this sense, someone who learns how to bring a project to fruition also develops
as a human being able to conceive of and carry through difficult and demanding
enterprises, which include the subtle but often demanding aspects of personal rela-
tionships (for reasons which should now be clear).
In other words, one may learn about what is really important to oneself, what stan-
dards one is capable of setting and achieving for oneself, and what inner resources are
needed to overcome obstacles. Not everyone is capable of this, nor is it necessarily a
process that has a natural end. The important liberal educational point, however, is
that through activity and subsequent reflection on it one learns about characteristics
of oneself that are relevant to other aspects of ones life. One should not assume,
either, that this has to be a solitary process. Conversations about work, not only with
ones workmates but with friends and family, for example, can serve to show connec-
tions between different aspects of ones life that otherwise may have lain undisclosed.
As Rhees (1970) pointed out, lifes making sense depends, at least in part, on an indi-
vidual being able to see the connections between different aspects: between work, lei-
sure and family life, for example. These connections are not always obvious and may
need to be brought to an individuals attention (Rhees, 1970).
One can thus learn a lot about oneself through successful project management and
the broader life, including the broader educational life, in which it is embedded. This
582 Christopher Winch

liberal educational aspect of learning to carry out these broad forms of agency is an
essential part of a vocational education worthy of the name. Such self-understanding is
also highly relevant to the other form of broad agency that was mentioned at the
beginning of this article, namely the capacity for autonomy: the ability to chart ones
course in life.
Such a course, if chosen freely, is ones own course, not just the course of a
particular type of person but of this person endorsed by oneself and based on self-
understanding. Autonomy worthy of the name demands choice that is informed
(partly through self-understanding) but which is also rational. That means choosing a
course through life which I as an individual can endorse as appropriate for myself and
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which I can justify. It is the argument of this article that it is difficult to do this with-
out the kinds of experience that a broad form of vocational education and/or voca-
tional experience is particularly apt to bring about.

Conceiving of vocational and professional education solely in terms of the develop-
ment of skill is fundamentally mistaken at a number of different levels: first, because
the concept of skill is far too narrow a concept of agency to do justice to vocational
and professional capacity; secondly, because it should also concern the traditional lib-
eral aim of promoting self-understanding; and thirdly, because it is, if not a logically
necessary prerequisite for the development of autonomy, at the very least an extremely
potent practical precondition for its development.

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