To what extent can we speak of theory specific to vocational education and training (VET) and what is its relevance today? This Special Issue 19 of bwp@ aims to (re)ignite academic discourse on VET theory, retrieving earlier theorisation specific to this field, mainly from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (the DACH countries) and connecting it both with international perspectives and contemporary debates. We invite papers in English or German that engage with these debates. From an international perspective, the DACH countries are extraordinary both in their proposition of theories of VET sui generis and especially in their influence on the field of policy and practice. By contrast, for example in English-speaking countries, influential theories that address the question of vocational study, whilst drawing extensively on philosophical and social science concepts, developed largely in opposition to policy and practices that positioned vocational learning as an inferior pathway and narrowed its educational scope. The dual apprenticeship model has been widely imitated internationally but without regard to the social partnerships, labour markets and education workforce developed in Germany, and the theories that shaped this system are neither translated nor widely discussed
in other languages. While there are several approaches to VET theory, the core of all these approaches is a framework of
normative goals of education, a characterisation of how these goals can be reached through vocational education in particular and the formulation of (education) policy implications that are necessary for successful implementation. For example, Kerschensteiner (1901, 1966/1904) in his emphasis on civic virtues as a central aim of education, drew attention to the possibility of attaining such virtues through work, but acknowledged the necessity of a foundation in general education. In contrast, post-war critical approaches, which regularly draw on critical theory (see Habermas 1968; Horkheimer & Adorno 1947), and can be dated to the 1960s and 1970s, identify autonomy and emancipation as central objectives of education (e.g. Lempert 1971; Blankertz 1974, 1979, 1982). The main challenge of VET theory was to explain how these goals also can be reached through vocational education. Blankertz’s answer lay in emphasizing the role of the VET school in widening and deepening knowledge associated with the workspace.
The value of these approaches for contemporary VET is dependent on their adaptation to contemporary problems that VET and society are experiencing: migration and integration; climate change and resource consumption, digitisation and globalisation. The tertiarisation of both the economy and of education, as the service sector employs a greater proportion of the population and a growing number of young people enter higher education, even in Germany, also calls into question the relevance of established VET theories. As the structures and forms of organisation that have sustained VET since the 1970s have given way to new social formations and new forms of precarity, the relevance of theories developed during the long period of post-war growth is called into question. Correspondingly, whether a critical standpoint can still be clearly located after the “fall of metaphysics” (Adorno 1998/1965) has also been deemed as questionable (cf. Schäfer 2005). Furthermore, a succession of de-centring approaches including post-structuralist, postmodernist and post-anthropocentric paradigms has suggested the erosion of earlier ‘grand narratives’, the supersession of the ‘enlightenment project’ and even questioned the progressive potential of human labour that explicitly VET theories tend to take for granted. Call for Papers bwp@ Spezial 19 2 Against this background, the bwp@ Special invites contributions that address both VET theory and its application to contemporary issues. The aim is to stimulate a discussion on the continuing significance of VET theory. The aim is to provide space for ideas on how the discipline and its subject could position itself, both nationally and beyond national borders, in its normative-theoretical contours and/or in relation to VET policy and VET practice.