University of Leicester
2012SmithAnitaDSocSci.pdf (2.6 MB)

Power, Work and Learning in Private Wealth Management

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posted on 2013-03-06, 10:22 authored by Anita Smith
The main thrust of this study argues that failure to account for the notion of power in considering learning in social contexts—like a working environment—inevitably presents an incomplete and unrealistic account of how learning actually is. Literature suggests that mainstream scholars and theorists have arguably pushed issues regarding the inter-connectedness of power and knowledge to the peripheral—resulting in both a paucity of theoretical coverage and empirical work on the subject. Through an interdisciplinary approach, this study takes inspiration from Foucault’s conceptualization of power—argued to provide a useful analytical framework for exploring power. Implications on how power impacts on learning in a contemporary workplace is viewed through the key ideas of ‘situated learning in communities of practice’ (Lave and Wenger). This study proposes that Foucault’s conceptualizations of power—regarding power as being relational and interconnected to knowledge—allows for a useful analytical framework that can sensitize our efforts towards understanding the power effects of knowledge with regards to learning at, and through, work practices, ultimately enabling us to re-work the concepts of ‘communities of practice’. The context of this study represents a professional knowledge-intensive workplace—Private Wealth Management (also referred to as Private Banking). Such contemporary work contexts—suggested to represent rather different environments vis-à-vis craft-like professions, for example—are argued to represent a more complex, conflicted and competitively-induced platform for learning. The wider regulatory environment was found to have strong influences in shaping the learning environment, representing both opportunities and restrictions for the bankers. Assessment based, compliant-driven and structured-training efforts were key drivers of the learning environment. Social interpersonal skills and professional relationships were observed as being integral and found to involve elements of power inequality, both within and across boundaries to which participants mediated, negotiated and often times obfuscated to effect power shifts through their discursive practices. Skills and perspectives, with regards to learning, evolved as the banker’s career trajectory progressed. Power punctuated not only the social network of relationships, but was also noted at the organizational level, via both explicit and implicit controls. Participants described purposeful thoughts and actions: mediating learning and strategizing outcomes in the respective environments with conflicted identity that requires balancing self, belongingness and directed efforts towards meeting the expectations of organization, respective clients and self.



Sung, Chi; Beck, Vanessa

Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • DSocSci



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