Rhetorical Analysis of Communities of Practice

The arguments presented in Handley’s articles discuss the the intricate sometimes ambiguous components of situated learning. Handley explains optimization of learning is centered around the relationship of identity, practice, and participation and expatiates on how each relates to the process. Investigating how these factors take form in specific discourse communities can provide a broad understanding of how they can be utilized to maximize learning potential.

Handley rejects the idea of learning of being a mechanical process of acquiring knowledge(Resnick, 1987; Sfard, 1998). One cannot manually input information that can be readily accessed and execute actions relating to it with the efficacy of an experienced member of that community. Rather situated learning is involves participation that has a both physical and mental elements. The vary degrees of participation including peripheral, marginal, and full relate to the status of engagement of a specific member in the discourse community. Novices start off mimicking the actions of the experienced through observation. The imitation is instilled into his cognition and more adaptive practices emerge indicating a milestone of experience and progression. The term practice stems from level of participation in the community and is representative of accepted norms. For example a football team goes through certain drills which can serve as the operational definition of practice in this context. Through participation in the drills a new player is introduced and gradually immersed in the practice norms until he is no longer a spectator but an active member.

Although Handley presents the importance of participation in the community be essential to situated learning the conflict of differing characteristics of participation and ‘mere engagement in practice arises. (Wenger, 1998, p. 57) There does in fact exist an outlier in the idea of participation. Simply going to the motions of a practice does not instill the learning associated with it. As mentioned before situated learning is comprised of physical and mental elements. Mere engagement lacks the mental aspect and is purely a mechanical exercise. Returning the football example, this idea of low level participation is portrayed as the player carelessly going through drills and not demonstrating any regard for form or precision. In other words just barely sustaining the status of being above of the threshold of simply being present. To appropriately identify with the community full participation is required. The difference between the two degrees of participation are normally discernible to an outside observer. One can tell who is an active member of a football team and who is just present to enjoy the privilege of wearing the jersey on Friday nights.


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.