Precarious realities of professional learning: an analysis of professional chat events on Twitter
Evans, Peter John
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Distributed online discussion events in social media are increasingly used as sites for open, informal professional development, knowledge sharing and community formation. Synchronous chat events hosted on Twitter have become particularly prominent in a number of professional domains. Yet theoretical and critical analysis of these Twitter chat events has, to date, been limited: this thesis contributes to the development of such analysis through a socio-material, network assemblage lens employing trans-disciplinary and multi-method research approaches. This research positions the Twitter chat events as the relational effects of network-assemblages of human and non-human actants. This thesis explores Twitter chat events with a particular focus on human resource development (HRD) as a professional domain that is widely seen as inherently changeable, fluid, contested and continually emergent. This study examines how practitioner-generated reportage of professional practice interact with the specific functions of Twitter to generate definitions of HRD as a professional field of practice. A combination of descriptive statistics, Social Network Analysis and analysis of the content and structure of the Chat events has been employed in researching 32 separate chat events with 12,061 tweets. The research methods generated multiple readings of the research data and surfaced different and fluid potential lines of enquiry in to the Twitter chat events. A number of these potential lines of enquiry were then selected as points of entry to ‘zoom in’ to the data using a Critical Discourse Analysis for a smaller sample of the chat events. The assemblages of the chat events are collective achievements involving human and non-human actants. The collective effects surfaced in the research problematise (a) the notion of online communities as the product of network ties and (b) the humanist orientations of much of the literature on professional learning. Within the Twitter chat events, HRD is constructed as a profession in crisis as the traditional bases of professional identity are eroded. The practitioners participating in these events position HRD as increasingly less relevant to its constituent audiences, clients and customers and as locked into organisational assemblages that cut-off the potential for new trajectories for the field to emerge. The chat events normalise technological and societal imperatives that create work intensification, demand committed lifelong learners and venerate precarious relations of employment. Hence, the domain of HRD is enacted as subservient to a new-capitalist discourse that emphasises adaptability, innovation and speed. A key finding of the research is that, in response to these challenges, the Twitter chat events seek to generate an idealised archetype of HRD bounded by a stable set of dominant practices. These practices emphasise the importance of self-directed learning, autonomous working and the capacities to cope with continuous change. Learning and development is positioned as the responsibility of the individual to enhance their employability within increasingly competitive labour markets. Thus, the idealised archetype of HRD is aligned with conceptualisations of a global post-industrial capitalism and with a notion of ‘enterprising selfhood’.