Philosopher in Residence in Construction Companies

Lead Research Organisation: Birmingham City University
Department Name: ADM Sch of English


The research applies philosophical ideas about expertise-in-context to improving practice in construction companies thus providing economic, social and cultural benefits. Construction is a rich environment displaying the use of expertise-in-context at a variety of levels in very intense and unique situations. The research will explore the therapeutic or diagnostic role of philosophy and its usefulness to practice, through the loosening of preconceptions and the exposure of unexamined assumptions and consequences based on a conception of knowledge as a process of activity (individual or social) rather than an abstract commodity that can be accumulated.

Three construction companies, Mouchel, Pettifer Construction, and Rider Levett Bucknall, have agreed to be involved. The project will involve small group workshops with practitioners on site in these companies analysing the philosophical dilemmas in their work in order to sensitise them to the benefits of clear thinking in context so that they can revise their practice and company processes thus providing economic benefit.

There are three stages. The first stage will use a series of stories, embodying philosophical dilemmas, from the construction industry in order to develop language and concepts of expertise-in-practice with participants. For example, the concept of waste has a context dependent meaning so there may be confusion over whether buffer time between activities and adornment on a building should be so described. These skills will be used in the second stage involving small group discussion taking individual's actual experiences of practice and helping them to expose faulty and inadequate assumptions about knowledge and to identify organisational contradictions in structure and processes. The third stage will involve a number of participants taking this activity themselves into their organisations, and an exploration of how more rigorous thinking can be embedded in company structure and processes in a long term sustainable way.

Individuals involved will understand and value their skills more clearly recognising their expertise-in-context including diagnosing limitations to their knowledge and work context which they will be able to communicate to a wider public. This will provide immediate benefit to the individuals and company, however, also demonstrating a better image of the industry to attract new entrants. The activity will raise the cultural awareness of construction practitioners towards philosophy and the resultant publicity from the project will broadcast this generally across the industry. At the same time, the project will challenge philosophy to provide an articulation which can be appreciated in non academic environments. In the long term, this will enable staff to change company structures and processes so they are aligned with improvements in practice, and to assist colleagues in therapeutic and diagnostic thinking thereby creating a critical mass of staff for effective change. These processes facilitate sustainable evolutionary change from within.


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