Philosophical perspectives on WIL, WIL as a research topic

Ten theses about WIL

After spending several years developing and running a master program in Work Integrated Political Studies (WIPS) which gives a master’s degree in work integrated learning, developing and running the course WIL as a research subject on the Ph. D. education in work integrated learning, being part of the WIL-certification process, currently doing research on the nature and development of academic disciplines in relation to work integrated learning, as well as taking part in many discussions, seminars and workshops on the issue, I have arrived at some conclusions.

The following are not theses that discuss at which stage work integrated learning as a discipline currently is, they are theses that claim how we need to think, if we think about WIL as a discipline.

  1. WIL as a discipline should not be defined through focus on a particular empirical area.
  2. WIL as a discipline should rather be defined from the nature of its research problems: an interest in learning processes, knowledge production and understanding, handling, and problematizing the relation between practical and theoretical knowledge.
  3. WIL is not an interdisciplinary discipline. This because a) a discipline can, by definition, never be interdisciplinary, b) interdisciplinarity is concerned with using theories, methods, concepts, and explanations from one discipline within another discipline.
  4. WIL is a discipline where individuals of multiple disciplinary backgrounds act and do research and will be so for the foreseeable future. This brings ontological and epistemological challenges that should not be underestimated. A main task is therefore establishing the common, independent grammar for this discipline, and from this elaborate a common understanding of such a grammar.
  5. WIL as a discipline should set as its goal the development of independent theoretical and methodological standpoints related to the common grammar of the discipline.
  6. Supervisors of Ph.D. candidates in WIL should themselves be active researchers within WIL as a discipline.
  7. Dissertations and master theses in WIL should be assessed as dissertations and theses within the discipline of WIL. This places great demands upon opponents, examinators and grading committees dealing with such dissertations and theses.
  8. In order to establish itself as an independent discipline, WIL needs to critically interact with the internationally established narrow definition of WIL as a tripartite relation between higher education, students, and employers.
  9. One way of facilitating such a critical interaction could be the establishment of a new international research journal, thereby starting the process of creating the necessary institutional structures for conceiving WIL as an independent discipline.
  10. Collaborative research and collaborative projects are not by definition WIL.

What these theses speak of is that what is needed for WIL as a discipline are institutional and scientific structures, active and developing research, and intensified network building with a common intention and aim. The scientific field is crowded, so to find space, or to convince someone to give up space, you need to be courageous and creative. And of course, you need time. But this process needs to be guided by clear ideas of what it is and what it strives for, along with the praxis established by published research.

There is also another matter that has traditionally been of crucial importance to stabilize academic disciplines: a steady influx of undergraduate students. But that is a matter for another time.

Fredrik Sunnemark
Associate Professor in the History of Ideas
University West

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