Rereading Jean Lave 30 years on: Analogy and transfer-in-pieces

  • Stig Børsen Hansen University of Southern Denmark, Department of Design and Communication


This paper explores and evaluates some of the criticisms of a cognitive approach to learning leveled by Lave in Cognition in Practice (1988). The paper progresses by initially identifying learning transfer as the focal topic of Lave’s work. Two lines of criticism are identified, one called practice-based and one called concept-based. Through a renewed analysis of one of the empirical cases reported by Lave, I set out to show how this empirical material did not lend itself to Lave’s conclusions, in so far as these conclusions rejected central tenets of cognitive theories of learning. Concerning the concept-based line of criticism, I show how the phenomenon of analogically related uses of words plays a role in defusing one version of the concept-based line of criticism. Concerning the practicebased criticism, I show how an oft-overlooked form of analogical inference, coupled with elements of a cognitive, transfer-in-pieces approach, offers a better account of Lave’s case than the one she offered. The paper concludes with reflections on the lasting significance of Lave’s work.

transfer, situated learning, structure mapping, analogy, logic