ZML Didaktik / Innovative Learning Scenarios

Identity in practice (Wenger: Communities of Practice)

Posted on: July 15, 2012

Preparing the ZML journal club and absolving the next step in the preparation for the BEtreat – I’m reading and summarising a part of Etienne Wenger’s “Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity” Cambridge University Press,1998.

First I want to indicate Wenger’s structural characteristics of a community of practice which are domain (the common topic, field of work), community (social room, respect, trust) and practice (having experience in the field, explicit and tacit knowledge). (Short Summary of Wenger’s CoPs)

Now I want to concentrate on Part II Identity (p. 143).

Issues of identity are an integral aspect of a social theory of learning (p. 145)

Wenger writes that “identity” is related to the membership in communities, and includes participation as well as non-participation and exclusion (Ablehnung) as well as inclusion (Aufnahme).

The individual and the collective / community are related to each other in an intense and reciprocal manner. Neither the individual nor the collective are “good” or “bad”. The role of an individual in a collective is negotiated.


Part II Identity, Chapter 6: Identity in practice

Practice entails the negotiation of ways of being a person in that context (p. 149) – which means: a member of a community

In figure 6.1 Wenger shows parallels between practice and identity:

  • Practice as negotiation of meaningsIdentity as negotiated experience of self (in terms of participation and reification) – ich verhandle meine Identität in einer Gemeinschaft mit den Aspekten der Teilnahme (des Dabei Seins oder eben nicht Dabei Seins) sowie Verdinglichung (schlüssiges Objekt) (“Ich Werdung”). Wenger (p. 151): “The experience of identity in practice is a way of being in the world”. How we live identifies who we are. We construct who we are by participative experience and reificative projections.
  • Practice as community  – three dimensions of a community of practice: mutual engagement (gemeinsame Verbindlichkeiten und sich Einbringen), joint enterprise (gemeinsames Vorhaben), shared repertoire (gemeinsamer Bestand, gemeinsames Wissen) – Identity as membership  when I’m member of a community of practice I know how to engage with others, I know “the rules”, it’s easy for me, I’m competent – and these competences form part of my identity. Wenger (p. 153): “membership in a community of practice translates into an identity as form of competence”.
  • Practice as shared history of learning Identity as learning trajectory : our identities form trajectories (Kurve, Weg) (peripheral, inbound, insider, boundary, outbound), identity is temporal and ongoing (look: Karl E. Weick: “sensemaking is ongoing“)
  • Practice as boundary and landscape Identity as nexus of multimembership: we all belong to many communities of practice, we have to maintain one identity across boundaries, “being one person requires some work to reconcile our different forms of membership” (p.159)
  • Practice as constellations – Identity as belonging defined globally but experienced locally : identity is a local-global interplay, it’s neither narrowly local nor abstractly global (p. 163)

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