Karen Handley’s essay, “Within and Beyond Communities of Practice.” talks about what is a community of practice and what its like to be an individual within the community. Community of practice focus around a group of people who share similar ideas about their field this creates the practice of the community. Individual’s participation in a learning community, leads to them forming their own identity as well as practicing the conventions of the community. Individuals in the community undergo the never ending tension between there individual beliefs on the subject of their community of practice and the norm of their community. Handley clearly defines and exemplifies the ideas of participation and practice to demonstrate the tension between the individuals work and non-work identities.
Handley spends time defining participation to show why the nature of practice and participation coincide. Handley goes on to say “Participation can then be understood to denote meaningful activity where meaning is developed through relationships and shared identities” (Handley 651). Participation through its definition established by Handley has to be meaningful. The nature of what is consider participation forces their to be a group to establish what it meaningful and what is not. Participation however does not have to be the practice. The activity just has to be meaningful this allows the individual to be a participant in the community with out having to shift his conventions to the practice.
Handley describes the nature of adapting to a practice for readers to understand why participation leads to a from of practice. Handley describes entering into a new community to give the reader a sense of the influence of the community. The author goes on to say “individuals develop practices by observing others, imitating them, and then adapting and developing their own particular practices in ways which match not only the wider community’s norms”( Handley 645). Entering a new community brings a lot of its practice on new. Studying other members in the community will create similarity in styles. These start to become the conventions of the practice. Handley explains this situation “participating in a community, a newcomer develops an awareness of that community’s practice and thus comes to understand and engage with various tools, language, role-definitions and other explicit artifacts as well as various implicit relations, tacit conventions, and underlying assumptions and values” (Handley 645). The norms of practice come through the collaboration among the members. The infectious nature of the practice is a constant source of tension between the the individual identity and his identity with the community.
In all, Handley uses examples and definitions to clearly describe the differences between participation and practice in a community. Participation is simply working on something that the community thinks is meaningful while practice involves following the conventions of the community and adapting some of your identity because of it. This hard line between keeps individuals at a tough position. While the way the opportunities of a community for the advantages of group work a person might not want to compromise their own identity to do so.
Handley, K., Sturdy, A., Fincham, R. and Clark, T. “Within and Beyond Communities of Practice: Making Sense of Learning Through Participation, Identity, and Practice”. Journal of Management Studies, May 2006, pp. 641–653.