Seeing and sensing the railways: A phenomenological view on practice-based learning

Thijs Willems*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article explores the role of embodied, sensible knowledge in practice-based learning. Despite recent efforts to conceptualize how practitioners become skillful through corporeal and sensible learning, it still seems under-theorized and hard to understand what this exactly entails. The aim of this article is to account for the inherently embodied and sensible nature of knowledge by drawing on a 2-year ethnographic study of train dispatchers in a railway control room. Embodied and sensible knowledge is developed through the work of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, as phenomenology is a way to theorize the body beyond being an object to, instead, account for embodiment as lived and experienced. The data show that such knowledge can be understood as a matter of ‘attunement’: dispatchers become progressively skillful in bringing their bodies and senses in tune with practical situations and perturbations in the environment. The article contributes to a richer understanding of embodiment, especially in the relation between knowledge and practices, in organization studies and management learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-39
Number of pages17
JournalManagement Learning
Issue number1
Early online date21 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Embodiment
  • phenomenology
  • practice-based learning
  • practices
  • sensible knowledge


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