ZML Didaktik / Innovative Learning Scenarios

Meaning (Wenger: Communities of Practice)

Posted on: July 31, 2012

Practice gives a focus on the experience of meaningfulness. (p 51)

Practice is about meaning as an experience of every-day life. – Praxis versteht Wenger als Verständnis von alltäglichen Erfahrungen. (p 52)

  • Meaning is located in the process “negotiation of meaning”. – Verständnis erreicht man, indem man mit anderen darüber verhandelt. Was hast Du gemeint mit …?
  • This negotiation needs participation and reification. Es braucht Teilnahme und Verdinglichung, “Konkretisierung”.
  • Webster Reification: etwas Abstraktes als Konkretes, materielles Ding ansehen. Etymologisch: etwas zu einem Ding machen.

Negotiation of meaning

  • The production of new patterns gives rise to an experience of meaning.
  • Living is an constant process of negotiation of meaning. (p 53)
  • negotiation = continuos interaction, gradual achievement, give-and-take (p 53)
  • Neither do we make meaning up independently of the  world, neither does the world impose meaning on us. (p 54)
  • Negotiation meaning is both historical and dynamic, contextual and unique.

Participation (p 55)

describes the social experience of living in the world, as members of social communities with active involvement in social enterprises.

The possibility of mutual recognition characterizes participation (e.g. family dogs). Relations are mutual in the sense that human beings shape each other’s experiences of meaning. (p 56)

Participation is a source for identity.

Participation is

  • more than collaboration
  • shapes the experiences AND shapes social communities
  • broader than mere engagement in practice (p 57)


“Real Werdung” z.B. Demokratie als Akteur

We project our meanings in the world and then we experience them as existing in the world, as having a reality of their won. (p 58)

In participation we recognize ourselves in each other, in reification we project ourselves onto the world,  we attribute to our  meanings an independent existence.

Reification = giving form to our experience by producing objects “thingness”.

A certain understanding is given form. This form then becomes a focus for the negotiation of meaning (etwa Verschriftlichung, Aussprechen).

Any CoP produces abstractions, tools, symbols, stories, terms, concepts that reify something of that practice in a congealed form via making, designing, presenting, naming, encoding, describing, perceiving, interpreting, using, reusing, …

The evocative power of reification is double-edged. (p 61) kann positiv und negativ sein – potentially enriching and potentially misleading. (p 62)

Duality of participation & reification

Yin/Yang symbol (Figure 1.1 p 63): participation (living in the world, membership, acting/interacting, mutuality) – reification (forms, points of focus, documents/monuments, projection, instruments)

We use the complimentary of participation and reification in order to secure some continuity of meaning across time and space.


Tun => Reification: reflektieren, abstrahieren, Konzept => TUN, Einsatz der Konzepts =>  reification: Weiterentwicklung oder verwerfen des Konzepts 

Reification: gibt Verständnis, ist Teil der Verhandlung des Verständnisses

Reification is essential to repairing the potential misalignments inherent in participation. (p 64)


The communicative ability of artifacts depends on how the work of negotiating meaning is distributed between reification and participation.

=> Different mixes become differentially productive of meaning. Bsp. ein Gedicht

Participation and reification must be in such proportion and relation as to compensate for their respective shortcomings. The duality of participation and reification is a fundamental aspect of the contribution of communities of practice. (p 65)

Participation and reification imply each other; they do not substitute for each other. (p 67)

Reification assumes a history of participation – Participation organizes itself around reification. 

Participation is never simply the realization of a description or prescription,. Reification is not a mere articulation of something that already exists. (p 68)

The duality of participation and reification is not just a distinction between people and things!

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