Constructing the world in dialogue : a study of advisory situations in Swedish agriculture

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Education, Stockholm University

Abstract: The thesis is about joint learning and dialogue in advisory situations. It has an explorative and reflective objective and the overarching aim is to explore communication in advisory situations as mediated by communicatively constructed and shared contexts. The empirical study concerns advisory services in agriculture and farmer-adviser communication in a subscription advisory program in crop production.The research design is qualitative. The research questions emerged in a previous study which was based on interviews and a grounded theory design. The thesis draws on data from that study, but also on later data from interviews and participant observation. Theoretically, the study is grounded in contextual didactics, a constructionist perspective on learning in which task-directedness and the concept of affordances are central. It also draws on dialogical conceptions of communication, and discusses asymmetries in communication in relation to the validity claims suggested by Habermas.The results show how a multitude of contextual resources are included in conversation. Joint strategies of contextualising were facilitated by narrative constructions, joint experiences in a concrete surrounding environment, the use of tools for planning, as well as by conversations on topics related to the farmer’s lifeworld or confirming a joint lifeworld. Communication is interpreted as producing and drawing on shared contexts, and the analysis points out how shared contexts may expand and be reinterpreted as contextual resources are drawn on and negotiated over time. The results suggest a dynamic in conversation of going between shared and separate perspectives and understandings; balancing adaptation and intervention, autonomy and joint decisions. Control, continuity and change of the topical activities are focal. The analysis suggests that advisory conversations may be conceived of as taking place in a dialogical space, and that upholding such a space is a central task for advisers. The study raises theoretical questions on language, experience and experiential learning and points to the empirical grounding of task-and action-related experiential learning.

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