The Identification of Knowledge Content and Function in Manual Labour

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Calls for an alternative conceptualization of cognition for applied concerns retain the core commitment of the basic research community to abstract cognition detached from a physical environment. The present paper attempts to break out of the dominant, narrow view of cognition and cognitive domains, with a cognitive analysis of digging ditches for the utility industry. To illustrate knowledge-based cognition in manual labour excerpts are presented from the journal entries of a moderately experienced student working a summer job, organized with a representation that distinguishes between the goals and methods of work. The journal entries illustrate the functions of knowledge for interacting with a physical environment; knowledge enables the selection, execution and monitoring of work methods, the interpretation of perceptual information, the application of task completion criteria and the ability for explanation and generalization. To emphasize the generality of the functions of cognition in ditch digging, comparable functions are indicated in a domain rarely regarded as a form of manual labour: the practice of internal medicine. Discussion of the results includes the implications for cognitive theory as well as practical implications for productivity, training and task analysis.



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