Agency and Expertise

  • Paul HagerEmail author
  • David Beckett
Part of the Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming Education book series (PRRE)


This chapter sets out and problematises this traditional account of agency (and its limitations for accounts of expertise):
  • The human capacity to act in the world is manifest in what individuals do and aspire to do.

  • To enact our aspirations, we are embodied over time: what individuals do and aspire to do require persistent activity over time, with the present as the main temporal frame of acting.

  • What we each strive for is mainly up to each of us: within the present time, an individual’s agency is apparent in the decision-making that each individual ‘owns’.

We argue instead that a more fruitful conception of agency and expertise is the way socioculturally located relations arise in, or emerge from, common practices over time. So the chapter will often remind the reader of the most common situations in which we find ourselves, as members of groups: teams, families, organisations and various other common relationalities. These commonalities are actually ‘communalities’. From this, we can begin to build on Anne Edwards’ important work (2010) on ‘relational agency’, where she claims: ‘…the resources that others bring to problems can enhance understandings and can enrich responses. However, working in this way makes demands on practitioners. At the very least, it calls for an additional form of expertise … based on confident engagement with the knowledge that underpins one’s practice as a social worker or nurse, as well as the capacity to recognise and respond to what others might offer’ (2010: 13, emphasis added). From this, and drawing on Aristotle’s phronesis (practical judgment), we develop the need for a notion of ‘group agency’.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Melbourne Graduate School of EducationThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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