Within and Beyond Communities of Practice

In the article “Within and Beyond Communities of Practice”, Karen Handley and her colleagues attempt to highlight different conceptual issues that communities of practice, as the crucial part of situated learning theory, encounter. They do that by first identifying situated learning theory as the one which provides opportunities to participate in the practice of the community and favors identity development (642). Handley et al. also note how socio-culture context brings not only diversity, but also problems to the communities of practice (647) and point out the need for enhancing the definition of “participation”, a crucial term in the communities of practice that has been a source of ambiguity due to how different parties use the term interchangeably with other terms like practice (650). Focusing on their call to refine the definition of participation, they highlight the way the term has been misused due to its ambiguity and suggests how to correct that.


Handley et al. take the first step by explaining what participation means in situated learning because different entities have used it with different meaning which the authors posit as a problem. They put forward assertions of different authors, like Wenger and Clancey, that suggest that participation is a process by which active participants participate in communities of practice and shape their identities within those communities (643). Going further, Handley et al. note that ambiguity in the usage of the term comes from several terms like peripheral, marginal that accompany participation. Thus, they wonder if participation in terms of situated learning ever exists due to the fact that people inside or outside the communities of practice put limitations on how much others or themselves can engage in those communities of practice (644).


The authors also analyze the degree of participation: peripheral, full, and marginal to lay down clearly their argument of how ambiguous participation, as a term in situated learning, can be. Handley et al. use the example of the case of meat-cutter apprentices in US supermarkets (649), which refers to how once a labor is at a low level of participation and does not promise any further advancement in the level of participation, the labor then gains another form of participation. The author uses this logic to conclude that due to the fact that actual participation in situated learning is considered as the process of moving from novice to a master, then this participation should be different to those other forms of participations (650).


The authors note that people define participation according to how much they identify themselves within a community of practice. Something that creates even more different meaning because other individuals have also their ways of defining those people (651). And so, the authors propose that due to the need of having a clear definition of what participation means in situated learning, further researches have to be carried out to find out other forms of participation according to how individuals participate within and beyond communities of practice (651).


Work Cited:

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.