Knowledge ‘transfer’ as sociocultural and sociomaterial practice

Immigrants expanding engineering practices in Canada


  • Hongxia Shan University of British Colombia



Immigrant studies, knowledge ‘transfer’, practice turn, sociocultural theories, sociomaterial theories


Research on migration and knowledge transfer predominantly focuses on expatriate and return migrants, who are acclaimed for transferring knowledge from the west to the rest of the world. Not only does the literature reinforce the west as the epistemic centre, but it conjures a realist image of knowledge as an objective thing. To interrupt these images, this paper examines the knowledge transfer experiences of 22 immigrant engineers in Canada. Theoretically, it posits knowledge transfer as an effect of immigrants’ enrolment in sociocultural and sociomaterial practices within professions. Empirically, it pinpoints three ways in which immigrants help expand engineering practices, i.e., assembling knowledge, mobilizing the capacity of learning to learn, and negotiating being and becoming. The process of transfer, as accounted by research respondents, is enabled through access to epistemic and boundary objects, reception of peer professionals, and the rise of (niche) needs. The paper draws on a narrative case study.


Metrics Loading ...


Bamberg, M. (2012). Narrative analysis. In H. Cooper, P. M. Camic, D. L. Long, A. T. Panter, D. Rindskopf & K. J. Sher (Eds.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology, Vol. 2. Research designs: Quantitative, qualitative, neuropsychological, and biological (pp. 85-102). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Beaverstock, J. V. (2002). Transnational elites in global cities: British expatriates in Singapores financial district. Geoforum, 33(4), 525-538. 00036-2 DOI:

Blackler, F. (1995). Knowledge, knowledge work and organizations: An overview and interpretation. Organization Studies, 16(6), 1021-1046. DOI:

Burgers, J., & Touburg, G. (2013). International mobility of professional knowledge from the Global South: Indian IT workers in the Netherlands. Global Networks, 13(4), 517-534. DOI:

Conway, D., Potter, R. B., & St. Bernard, G. (2012). Diaspora return of transnational migrants to Trinidad and Tobago: The additional contributions of social remittances. International Development Planning Review, 34(2), 189-209. DOI:

DeLanda, M. (2006). A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory and social complexity. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis.

Duan, Y., Xu, M., & Feng, W. (2011). Transnational knowledge transfer. In D. G. Schwartz & D. Teeni (Eds.), Encyclopedia of knowledge management (2nd ed.) (pp. 1512-1524). Hershey, PA: IGI Global/Information Science Reference.

Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization, Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133-156. DOI:

Eraut, M. (2019). How professionals learn through work. Lifewide Magazine, 22, 6-25.

Fenwick, T. J., Edwards, R., & Sawchuk, P. H. (2011). Emerging approaches in educational research: Tracing the sociomaterial (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Fenwick, T., & Nerland, M. (2014). Reconceptualising Professional Learning: Sociomaterial Knowleges, Practices and Responsibilities, London: Routledge. DOI:

Gherardi, S. (2008). Situated knowledge and situated action: What do practice-based studies promise? In D. Barry & H. Hansen (Eds.), Sage handbook of the new & emerging in management & organization (pp. 516-527). London: Sage. DOI:

Gherardi, S., & Nicolini, D. (2000). To transfer is to transform: The circulation of safety knowledge. Organization, 7(2), 329-348. DOI:

Grbich, C. (2012). Qualitative data analysis: An introduction. London: Sage. DOI:

Grosz, E.A. (1994). Volatile bodies: Toward a corporeal feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Haas, M. R. (2006). Acquiring and applying knowledge in transnational teams: The roles of cosmopolitans and locals. Organization science, 17(3), 367-384. DOI:

Hallqvist, A. (2014). Biographical learning: Two decades of research and discussion. Educational Review, 66(4), 497-513. DOI:

Hodkinson, P., & Hodkinson, H. (2004, May). A constructive critique of communities of practice: Moving beyond Lave and Wenger. Seminar paper presented at Integrating Work and Learning - Contemporary Issues Seminar Series, University of Leeds, UK.

Iskander, N., & Lowe, N. (2011). The transformers: Immigration and tacit knowledge development. New York: NYU Wagner Research Paper No. 2011-01. DOI:

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). New York, NY: Routledge.

Maitra, S., & Guo, S. (2019). Theorising decolonization in the context of lifelong learning and transnational migration: Anti-colonial and anti-racist perspectives. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 38(1), 5-19. DOI:

Morrice, L., Shan, H., & Sprung, A. (2018). Migration, adult education and learning. Studies in the Education of Adults, 49(2), 129-135. DOI:

Müller, M. (2015). Assemblages and actor-networks: Rethinking socio-material power, politics and space, Geography Compass, 9(1), 27-41. DOI:

Newland, K., & Plaza, S. (2013). What we know about diasporas and economic development. Washington DC: Migration Policy Institute, Policy Brief No.5.

Ottoson, J. M. (2009). Knowledge-for-action theories in evaluation: Knowledge utilization, diffusion, implementation, transfer, and translation. New Directions for Evaluation, 124, 7-20. Schatzki, T. R. (2001). Introduction: Practice theory. In T .R. Schatzki, K. Knorr Cetina, & E. Savigny (Eds.), The practice turn in contemporary theory (pp. 10-23). New York: Routledge. DOI:

Schatzki, T. R. (2002). Becoming and change. In T .R. Schatzki, (Eds.), The site of the social: A philosophical account of the constitution of social life and change (pp. 189-264). University Park: Penn State University Press. DOI:

Star, S. L. (2010). This is not a boundary object: Reflections on the origin of a concept. Science, Technology and Human Values, 35(5), 601-617. DOI:

Tamboukou, M. (2010). Charting cartographies of resistance: Lines of flight in women artists narratives. Gender and Education, 22(6), 679-696. DOI:

Trippl, M., & Maier, G. (2010). Knowledge spillover agents and regional development. Papers in Regional Science, 89(2), 229-233. DOI:

Wells, K. (2011). Narrative inquiry. Pocket guides to social work. London: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Williams, A. M. (2006). Lost in translation? International migration, learning and knowledge, Progress in Human Geography, 3o(5), 588-607. DOI:

Williams, A. M. (2007a). International labour migration and tacit knowledge transactions: A multi-level perspective. Global Networks, 7(1), 29-50. DOI:

Williams, A. M. (2007b). Listen to me, learn with me: International migration and knowledge transfer. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 45(2), 361-382. DOI:

Williams, A., & Baláž, V. (2008). International Migration and Knowledge. Oxon: Routledge.

Zhou, Y., & Hsu, J. (2011). Divergent engagements: Roles and strategies of Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese returnee entrepreneurs in the IT industry. Global Networks, 11(3), 398-419. DOI:




How to Cite

Shan, H. (2020). Knowledge ‘transfer’ as sociocultural and sociomaterial practice: Immigrants expanding engineering practices in Canada. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 11(3), 383–397.