Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 367–384 | Cite as

Situating graphs as workplace knowledge

  • Richard Noss
  • Arthur Bakker
  • Celia Hoyles
  • Phillip Kent


We investigate the use and knowledge of graphs in the context of a large industrial factory. We are particularly interested in the question of “transparency”, a question that has been extensively considered in the general literature on tool use and, more recently, by Michael Roth and his colleagues in the context of scientific work. Roth uses the notion of transparency to characterise instances of graph use by highly educated scientists in cases where the context was familiar: the scientists were able to read the situation “through” the graph. This paper explores the limits of the validity of the transparency metaphor. We present two vignettes of actual graph use by a factory worker, and contrast his actions and knowledge with that of a highly qualified process engineer working on the same production line. We note that in neither case the graphs were transparent. We argue that a fuller account that describes a spectrum of transparency is needed, and we seek to achieve this by adopting some elements of a semiotic approach that enhance a strictly activity-theoretical view.

Key words

graphs situated abstraction technology transparency workplace mathematical knowledge 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Noss
    • 1
  • Arthur Bakker
    • 1
  • Celia Hoyles
    • 2
  • Phillip Kent
    • 1
  1. 1.London Knowledge Lab, Institute of EducationUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Institute of EducationUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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