Higher Education

, Volume 70, Issue 5, pp 867–880 | Cite as

Enrolment of newcomers in expert cultures: an analysis of epistemic practices in a legal education introductory course

  • Karen JensenEmail author
  • Monika Nerland
  • Cecilie Enqvist-Jensen


This article focusses on the transformative role of knowledge in student learning, paying particular attention to the mechanisms that facilitate the “enrolment” of students into their prospective expert cultures. It is vital for educational policy and practice to develop an understanding of how students enter a specialised knowledge domain. This requires a transformation in understanding as well as the appropriation of specific tools, discourses and practices. However, to investigate how this happens and identify aspects that matter for supporting processes of transformation and change, we need frameworks that move beyond traditional divides in educational research. In particular, we need to develop frameworks that capture the dynamic relationship between knowledge as historically developed but unfolding, evolving institutional arrangements, and student experiences. Drawing on the work of sociologist Knorr Cetina, we suggest an approach that highlights the concepts of epistemic machineries, epistemic practices and ‘epistementalities’ as a useful starting point to investigate such a relationship. We use a study of knowledge and learning in legal education during an intensive one-week course to illustrate how these more general concepts can be put to work to facilitate studies of the multiple levels and linkages involved in supporting enrolment processes. Thus the article builds on and contributes to previous discussions in this journal, where the need to develop new frameworks to account for the role of knowledge in student learning has been argued.


Professions Knowledge cultures Knowledge practices Enrolment Legal education 



This research is conducted as part of the Project Horizontal Governance and Learning Dynamics in Higher Education, funded by the Research Council of Norway under the FINNUT programme (2012–2016). We would like to thank the reviewers and the editor for their supportive comments and the Project team for constructive inputs to previous versions of the manuscript.


  1. Ashwin, P. (2014). Knowledge, curriculum and student understanding. Higher Education, 67(2), 123–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Daipha, P. (2010). Visual perception at work: Lessons from the world of meteorology. Poetics,. doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2009.11.007.Google Scholar
  3. Donald, J. (2002). Learning to think: Disciplinary perspectives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  4. Fenwick, T., & Edwards, R. (2013). Networks of knowledge, matters of learning, and criticality in higher education. Higher Education, 67(1), 35–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Haggis, T. (2009). What have we been thinking of? A critical overview of 40 years of student learning research in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 34(4), 377–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Jensen, K., & Lahn, L. (2005). The binding role of knowledge. An analysis of nursing students’ knowledge ties. Journal of Education and Work, 18(3), 307–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Knorr Cetina, K. (1999). Epistemic cultures: How the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Knorr Cetina, K. (2001). Objectual practice. In T. Schatzki, K. Knorr-Cetina & E. von Savigny (Eds.), The practice turn in contemporary theory (pp. 175–188). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Knorr Cetina, K. (2006). Knowledge in a knowledge society: Five transitions. Knowledge, Work and Society, 4(3), 23–41.Google Scholar
  10. Knorr Cetina, K., & Bruegger, U. (2000). The market as an object of attachment. Exploring postsocial relations in financial markets. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 25(2), 141–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Knorr Cetina, K., & Reichmann, W. (in press). Professional Epistemic Cultures. In I. Langemeyer, M. Fischer & M. Pfadenhauer (Eds.), Epistemic and learning cultures—woher und wohin sich Universitäten entwickeln (pp. 14–29). Weinheim: Juventa Verlag.Google Scholar
  12. Lave, J. (1993). The practice of learning. In S. Chaiklin & J. Lave (Eds.), Understanding practice: Perspectives on activity and context (pp. 3–32). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mäkitalo, Å. (2013). Learning to make a case in law school. Categorizing events and actions in legal discourse. Psicologia Culturale, 3, 83–113.Google Scholar
  15. Mertz, E. (2007). The language of law school. Learning to ‘think like a lawyer’. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Muller, J., & Young, M. (2014). Disciplines, skills and the university. Higher Education, 67(2), 127–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Nerland, M., & Jensen, K. (2014). Changing cultures of knowledge and professional learning. In S. Billett, C. Harteis, & H. Gruber (Eds.), International handbook of research in professional and practice-based learning (pp. 611–640). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Jensen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Monika Nerland
    • 1
  • Cecilie Enqvist-Jensen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EducationUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations