Communities of Practice

In “Within and Beyond Communities of Practice,” by Karen Handley, the situated learning is dissected. Furthermore, she highlights difference between participation, identity, and practice. If you want to understand not only the academic community but all communities of practice, you must understand Handley’s argument.

I played soccer in high school. I would spend hours juggling, running, doing drills on my own to perfect the skills necessary to be an adequate player. However, what made me a real player was playing for a team. Without my team those abstract skills could not be put to use. Handley laments contends that this is on the level in the academic community as well. She claims, “individual learning should be thought of as emergent, involving opportunities to participate in the practices of the community.” She sees abstract knowledge not as useless; rather, it is just not yielded until it has been put into practice.

Practice. Another element that overlaps between both soccer and academics. In practice you wanted players to push each other to new limits. If there was a scrimmage, it was expected players would not hold back. By doing so, we made each other better. This is analogous to academic learning. Handley asserts, “situated theory calls attention to the possibilities for variation and even intra-community conflict.” So whether you are running full speed in practice or contending a classmate’s ideology, conflict is not only healthy in communities of practice but imperative.

These concepts of conflict and community are essential in participation. If I went to practice and sluggishly played defense or lost focus during a drill, the entire team would have to run. When you were at practice it was indispensable that you were participating at all times. Handley shows it is parallel in academic communities. She supports this by saying, “participation refers not just to local events of engagement in certain activities with certain people, but to a more encompassing process of being active participants.” If a student wants to feel a part of the academic community, the must put forth the effort of partaking not watching from the sidelines.

Through conflict, participation, and being a part of a team, one can learn a lot about oneself. For example, an underclassman on a soccer team may make a push to start over an upperclassman. It takes self-inflicted push to try to become more involved in the team. Once again, the same rings true for academic communities. Handley states, “identity-work involves a negotiation between the organization’s efforts at identity-regulation.” If one wants to move up in the community of practice they belong, a self-derived must compel them to do so.

If I asked you to name a community of which you belong to it may seem easy. However, if I asked you to name a community in which you have encourage conflict, participate, and have an identity it may become more difficult. These are all essential aspects of true communities of practice. So if you want to be in a “community of practice” practice these steps.


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.