What I’m talking about at #ALTA2014 next week

alta2014Next week, at #ALTA2014, I will talk about how PLT is “enclosed” by discursive operations that constrain scholarly activities of PLT practitioners around their teaching and learning work. I suspect this constraint impedes theory and practice about “practice”, in legal professional education and training.

I question ways in which social structures are inscribed into legal education practices, and conversely, whether practices can modify those structures. I argue PLT practitioners are not simply soldiers for a “vocationalist” strategy. Instead, I re-imagine PLT practitioners as “double agents” or “resistance fighters”, lamplighters in a still emergent professional trajectory. It is a trajectory catalysed by the 1970s introduction of institutional PLT; just a baby really, in the context of English common law.

In Bourdieu’s terms it is possible, by revisiting past struggles in Australian legal education, to conceptualise institutional PLT as the product of judicial, professional, and academic struggles to produce a vocationalised, non-academic, and critique-free sub-field within the juridical field. Those struggles succeeded, to some extent, in the extra-individual dimension of structures, regulation, and institutions, to collectively inculcate preferred dispositions within individuals about legal education and professional identity.

That account, however, ignores the potential for agency and alterity – the ways in which individuals might appropriate, in Certeau’s terms, the resources of the legal field to explore new professional trajectories. For some, these trajectories involve struggles to enrich, and add texture to, legal education. Drawing on interviews with PLT practitioners, I identify multi-vocal and multi-perspectival themes, including notions of social justice, equality, professional ethics, personal improvement, and indeed, interest in scholarship of teaching and learning.

It is in this sense I re-imagine PLT practitioners as “double agents”, operating betwixt and between dominant domains in law. In my view, PLT practitioners can participate in conceptualising and developing emergent approaches in legal education, and to theorise “practice” as lawyers and educators. Scholarship of teaching and learning has its part to play in this. It provides a means, as lawyers and as educators, to discover information, to reflect, critique, communicate, and conceptualise, insights about “practice” and practices.

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