On the train on my way into Lisbon this morning I was reading "Beyond Communities of Practice: Language, Power and Social Context" (Eds. David Barton and Darin Tusting).
I felt relieved and excited to see the discourse of new literacies, discourse theory and and language-in-use being used in the same breath as communities of practice. I have been using it myself and have been wondering why no-one else could see it!
Then I got off the train at Entrecampos and went to "negotiate a tender" for building a community of practice on social innovation. During this negotiation I realised, once again, how people tend to see a community of practice as a platform. Or, rather, they think that building a platform, with lots of functionalities, plus some "animation" will create a community of practice.
In other words there is this gap in people's thinking between the lived in experience of human beings - with all their strengths, frailities and social lives - and the tools and technology they use. One person builds (animates) the community while someone else builds the platform.
This view is a contrasting one to the Communities of Practice notion of "Technology stewardship". Nancy White blogs the definition that she and Etienne Wenger and John Smith came up with for a technology steward:
“Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community .”
And in a private email with John Smith he mentions the difference between "implementing technology requirements" and "steward technology needs in practice". His comment came up in the context of a conversation about the difference between translating and negotiating meaning, where I observed that the differences between translating and negotiating meaning include:
- negotiating meaning is more time-consuming than translation.
- negotiating meaning is a messy, bits and pieces process, not a linear one, whereas translation can be linear.
- translation might be instrumental, but negotiating meaning is more like an act of love
- negotiating meaning can't be separated from your status/authority
- in the discourse communities/languages you are bridging, whereas translation can.
- negotiating meaning is a more social process than translation
- spending time negotiating meaning means that you don't do other things which are important to you.
- the more you negotiate the meaning, the more you feel like you and the words belong to each other.
So where am I getting to with all this? I guess I'm feeling the frustration that I always do of speaking different languages. There are people researching and writing about communities of practice, there are people with lots of experience of communities of practice, and there are others who have the funding for communities of practice. There are some overlaps between the languages that they all speak, but there are also LOTS of false friends.