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Constructing learning: adversarial and collaborative working in the British construction industry

Bishop, Dan, Felstead, Alan, Fuller, Alison, Jewson, Nick, Kakavelakis, Konstantinos and Unwin, Lorna 2008. Constructing learning: adversarial and collaborative working in the British construction industry. [Working Paper]. Learning as Work Research Paper, vol. 13. Cardiff: Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. Available at:

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This paper examines two competing systems of organising the construction process and their consequences for learning. Under the adversarial system, contractors compete solely on price, risks are shifted onto those next in line and disputes are institutionalised through complicated, but inevitably incomplete, contracts. However, under collaborative working the costs and risks of the project are shared and the parties involved communicate openly and freely, often in the absence of tightly specified contracts. The move from the former to the latter – prompted and encouraged by government enquiries, large public sector clients and building regulations – represents a shift towards a climate in which problems are shared and solved regardless of where they occur in the productive system (a process conceptualised as ‘knotworking’ in the literature). The paper argues that such learning theories and policy pressures from above fail to take adequately into account the heavy hand of history and the importance of understanding the nature of the productive systems in which ‘knotworking’ is expected to occur. Both are important in understanding the fragility of collaborative working across the stages and structures of the construction production process which place limits on making ‘knotworking’ an habitual and commonplace activity.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Publisher: Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 03:41

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