Subjectivity and Inter-subjectivity


From a post-structuralist view, subjectivity refers to individual’s conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions that shapes their relations with the world (Weedon 1997). In contrast to the humanist accounts that claimed that an individual’s sense of self is fixed and coherent, post-structuralist accounts ‘propose a subjectivity that is precarious, contradictory and in process, constantly being reconstituted in discourses each time we think or speak’ (p. 32). From these perspectives, when exercised, individual intentionality and agentic action stands as being central to an individual’s learning and development throughout their working lives in terms of how and what they learn through inter-psychological processes (Vygotsky 1978): those between individuals and social sources.

Work is a key component of adult life and for many it is the means through which their identity is shaped and exercised (Noon and Blyton 1997, Pusey 2003). Consequently, changes in work and the relationship between individuals and their workplaces may well have pervasive consequences for individuals and their learning. Understanding how individual’s continued engagement in working life, with its churning and transformations, is therefore likely linked to their subjectivities or sense of self. There is no common or objective sense of satisfaction and self that individuals will derive from participation in paid work; it is more person dependent and situational (Noon and Blyton 1997). It suggests that individual subjectivity, identity and sense of self play a key role in the valuing of work for the individual, rather than socially structured legitimizing characteristics (e.g. high discretionary, status and remunerated work). Further, not all individual’s paid work will provide the desired personal identity or sense of self, nor will everybody necessarily seek for their sense of self to be realized through their paid work.


Workers engaged in close physical proximity, where their work could be observed and monitored and in circumstances that might promote inter-subjectivity (i.e., shared understanding). Inter-subjectivity is seen as an important outcome of social interactions, particularly of the proximal kind. Comprehensive inter-subjectivity (i.e., shared understanding between situationally accessible knowledge and interlocutor), as in socialisation, stands as an ideal intra-psychological outcome that is unlikely to be realised. The relational nature of this interplay suggests that equal personal or social contributions in inter-psychological processes and shared intra-psychological attributes and/or outcomes as intersubjectivity are rendered increasingly unlikely. The difficulty of securing inter-subjectivity renders as necessary individuals’ need to actively engage in and remake the cultural practices they are engaged in, if for no other reason than their need to enact them with effect. Because it is difficult or impossible to provide unequivocal guidance about how a work task needs to be conceptualised and then enacted, individuals inevitably have to engage agentically in remaking the culturally derived practices that constitute their work.