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Cristina Grasseni

In this article, skilled vision is presented as a capacity acquired in a community of practice that enables specific ways of knowing and acting in the world. The analysis of skilled vision is obtained through the ethnographic study of the artefacts and the routines that structure certain ecologies of practice. The example chosen is that of the skilled gaze of animal breeders, in particular of the children of dairy cow breeders who, by playing with relevant toys and emulating the adult world of cattle fairs and exhibitions, learn how to value certain criteria of animal beauty and to "discipline" their vision accordingly.

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Carl A. Maida and Sam Beck

The community of practice is an organisational form that complements the current knowledge economy, which since the late twentieth century has accelerated with advances in information production and dissemination (Wenger 2000). Communities of practice ensure greater engagement for sustainability by the public as local and global actors. A paradigm that arose through the anthropological imagination, the community of practice is an organisational form that complements the current knowledge economy (Lave 1988). A community of practice provides a framework for understanding social learning in complex organisations, specifically the notion of knowing. For novices and experts alike, knowing within a community of practice is based upon socially defined competence, or the ability to act and to be viewed as a competent member. Belonging to a particular community is based upon engagement, imagination and alignment within a social learning system that supports and sustains members and the community itself. Communities of practice provide the framework for social learning, because members: share a sense of joint enterprise, indicative of the level of learning energy within the community; interact on the basis of mutuality, which points to the depth of social capital generated by mutual engagement; and share a repertoire of resources, indicating the degree of participants’ self-awareness (Lave and Wenger 1991). This framework – of knowing, belonging, and social learning through more informal styles characteristic of a community of practice – provides members with the skills to engage meaningfully in knowledge production, exchange and transformation in complex organisations by creating new ways of ‘being in the world’.

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Without fear and reproach

The role-playing games community as a challenge to mainstream culture

Tat'iana Barchunova and Natal'ia Beletskaia

The article describes one of the most developed networks of intellectual youth in post-Soviet Russia. This network originated in science-fiction clubs and the 'Zarnitsa game' of the 1960s to 1980s. Yet unlike Zarnitsa games, which have been used at Soviet schools as an instrument of political mainstreaming, the current role-playing games community is opposing itself to mainstream politics and popular culture. The article approaches this network as a community of practice, which is constituted by three basic elements: learning, doing, and justification of meaning. Both leaders and rank-and-file members of the community justify their agency within the community through the concept of rule. It is the rule-governed community, which according to them, helps them to feel secure and fearless in a society that they see as devoid of any strict regulations. The article closes with an analysis of the inner and outer conflicts of the role-playing games community.

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Carl A. Maida and Sam Beck

This is Part Two of a set of articles related to how communities of practice inform global sustainability; a more extensive introductory essay (Maida and Beck 2016) is included in the first of this two-part special issue. The community of practice is an organisational form, which since the late twentieth century, has accelerated with advances in information production and dissemination (Wenger 2000). Communities of practice ensure greater engagement for sustainability by a public as local and global actors. As a paradigm that arose through the anthropological imagination, the community of practice is an organisational form that complements the current knowledge economy (Lave 1988).

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Confronting Tyranny in a Public Health Agency

Crafting a ‘Philosophy of Praxis’ into a ‘Community of Resistance’

Brian McKenna

This article details how a community of practice came crashing down on the iron rocks of bureaucracy. I apply Brown and Duguid’s theorisation of the dialectics of ‘working, learning and innovating’ illustrating how these three aspects came to conflict with one another, and how I worked to resolve them. As an anthropologist leading an environmental health project in a mid-Michigan public health agency, I formed a ‘community of practice’ and proceeded as a researcher, ethnographer and community activist for nearly three years, gathering findings to change the agency’s organisational structure, as a form of ‘disruptive innovation’. The community ‘roundtable’ of external project advisors highly supported the penultimate reports on water pollution, air pollution and restaurant health. The interdisciplinary strategies pursued resulted in valuable integrations of new knowledge in public anthropology across several thematic areas: critical public pedagogy, sustainability, citizen science, radical journalism and anthropologies of violence, trauma and transformation.

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Communities of Practice at the Cidade do Saber

Plural Citizenship and Social Inclusion in Brazil

Carla Guerrón Montero

I explore the relationships among state, culture and politics in the context of the largest educational project of social inclusion, local participation and citizenship in the Municipality of Camaçari, state of Bahia, northeastern Brazil. The City of Knowledge (Instituto Raimundo Pinheiro – Cidade do Saber), or CDS, offers free access to education, cultural events, and sports and leisure activities to economically disadvantaged children and adults, based on the concept of ‘plural citizenship’, the understanding that wider access to education, culture and sports shortens social distances and generates sustainable human development. Concepts of social inclusion, local participation, critical thinking and constructions of citizenship are applied, tested and contradicted on the ground. Sustainability is experienced as sustainable human development; sustainable urbanism; environmental sustainability and challenges to the sustainability of CDS, a community of practice where stakeholders are potentially producing a new way to understand what it means to be a modern Brazilian citizen.

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Affective Solidarities?

Participating in and Witnessing Fair Trade and Women’s Empowerment in Transnational Communities of Practice

Dabarati Sen

The popularity of fair trade products has engendered new possibilities for consumer citizens in the global North to demonstrate solidarity with producers in the global South. Fair trade enthusiasts not only buy labelled products as an act of solidarity with producers in Darjeeling’s tea plantations; but also extend their affective solidarity by voluntarily visiting certified production sites to witness how fair trade affects workers’ livelihoods. Fair trade as transnational praxis has inadvertently pushed justice seeking and delivery to a non-state sphere that is not accountable to the workers in terms of citizenship rights; however, it must address the bargaining power of producers since wages and benefits are baseline determinants of quality of life. Fair trade-engendered solidarity practices erase the complex history of workers’ struggle with the state and established systems of power through collective bargaining. These acts in turn produce new kinds of transnational praxis affecting the plantation public sphere.

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Richard Westra

All communities of practice must face questions relating to the material economic foundations of future sustainable societies. David Graeber, Karl Polanyi and Karl Marx each have produced typologies of possible types of economy, synthesised as: (1) the principle of individual reciprocity, (2) the market principle of capitalism, and (3) the planning principle of the state. I apply this synthesis to recent proposals for community change advanced by Bill McKibben and David Korten concerning economic scale and the re-localising of production and consumption sundered by globalisation, focused on the local exchange and trading system (LETS). The operationalising of LETS draws upon Adam Smith’s view of markets as face-to-face exchanges of goods taking place in small morality-bound communities. Smith, McKibben and Korten conflate two different meanings of the term ‘exchange’. To understand the role LETS may play in future sustainable economies in communities of practice demands treatment of this problem.

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Linda D'Amico

This article describes ways rural women and men in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forests created regional and trans-regional institutions to develop and sustain effective environmental governance. It traces their interpretation of political ecology within local realities, based on household concerns centred upon water and food security, and how they came to draw upon global discourse and increased civic participation. The article shows how they created communities of practice that came to define local (and glocal) sustainability. Their proactive and generative approaches to environmentalism – expressed through actions and institutions – are significant, offering examples of expanded social equity and adaptive resilience in the face of change.

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Sam Beck

The nature of capitalism in its neoliberal form is decreasing higher education’s exclusive domain of knowledge production by exposing students to and exploiting local knowledge production. This has created a paradox. Experiential learning is being supported as ‘academic’ because students learn skills, values and perspectives by engaging in communities of practice. Through community service learning and social justice oriented internships, students learn about emancipatory social movements while simultaneously providing their intellectual capital. Urban Semester Program students participate in the movement for affordable housing, with its origins in post-war Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where many Puerto Ricans settled. Engaged in a struggle against displacement, for self-determination and developing community sustainability by advocating and winning low and moderate income housing, residents are determined to remain in their neighbourhood. Students are engaged in this struggle and connect this exposure to their internships, and the globalising world economy, the role of the state, and corporate power.