For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Understanding of Work: The Basis for Competence Development"

by Sandberg, Jörgen (2009)


Developing competence in organisations has received increased attention among both practitioners and academics during the last two decades. This chapter aims to investigate what constitutes competence development at work, that is, what makes competence development possible. Different theories of competence are outlined as a precursor to exploring what enables competence development at work. Based on that review, it is argued that understanding of work forms the basis for competence development. This chapter investigates what understanding is and how it operates by drawing on the phenomenological hermeneutic theory of understanding. It suggests that understanding is constituted by an inevitable circularity, in the sense that developing an understanding of work presupposes that it is already understood. Finally, the implications that this circular nature of understanding has for the way we develop competence at work are discussed.

Key Passage

Although we develop our understanding through interpretation, Heidegger claims that ‘in interpretation, understanding does not become something different. It becomes itself’. Moreover, interpretation is not ‘the acquiring of information about what is understood; it is rather the working out of possibilities projected in understanding’. Hence, according to Heidegger,, interpretation is not something separate from understanding but, rather, a particular mode of understanding, which clarifies what we already have understood in advance: ‘Interpretation always only takes care of bringing out what is disclosed as a cultivation of the possibilities inherent in an understanding’. This means that when the optimisers interpret their work, they do so within their specific understanding of it. For example, optimisers 1 interpret their work within their understanding of it as optimising separate steps. Through those interpretations, their understanding of work is developed continuously as these interpretations gradually disclose and clarify further aspects of their understanding of work. (p.13)


Skill, Heidegger, Competence, Development, Phenomenology, Hermeneutic



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