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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