Schön’s Design Inquiry: Reinvigorating the quest for a pragmatist epistemology of practice

Frithjof Weneger, Brian Dixon, Anna Rylander Eklund, Danielle Lake

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Forty years ago, Donald Schön (1983) argued forcefully against technical rationality—the view that practice is merely applied theory—as the foundational perspective for understanding expert professional action. Drawing on the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey’s theory of inquiry (1938), his alternative pointed to the possibility of an epistemology of practice, i.e., a theory of how knowing emerges in action. Grounded in a form of what he referred to as ‘design inquiry’, this epistemology relied on the idea of ‘reflection-in-action’—a powerful merging of thought and action, means and ends within the performance a specific task or activity (1983, pp. 68-69). Reflection-in-action, he suggested, “arises momentarily in the midst of a flow of action [then] disappears, giving way to some new event, leaving in its wake, perhaps, a more stable view of the situation” (Schön, 1992, p. 125). Though now four decades old, Schön’s vision still raises questions for the field of design studies today. While reflection-in-action continues to hold conceptual appeal, it remains difficult to research directly and still awaits the formulation of methods/methodologies capable of tracking its instability in the midst of wider flows of activity. Equally, as Schön himself pointed out in later work (e.g. Schön, 1992; 1995), the epistemology of practice project remains unfinished. This track invited authors to respond to these latter challenges and develop papers that engage with the classical pragmatists in order to deepen the project that Schön started. There was also the suggestion that contributors might compare Schön’s design inquiry with conceptions of design science (e.g., Simon 1969)
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jun 2022
EventDRS2022: Bilbao - Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain
Duration: 25 Jun 20223 Jul 2022


ConferenceDRS2022: Bilbao
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