Towards Communities of Practice in Global Sustainability

in Anthropology in Action

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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Anthropology in Action

Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice