Mutual Engagement and Communities of Practice

Mutual Engagement and Communities of Practice

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Mutual engagement is the fundamental element of communities of practice. It is the conglomerate of individuals who either come together or are brought together based on a common interest. These common interests are the foundations on which a community is formed, providing the necessary framework in which members can participate in meaningful practice. Central to this framework are the ways that individuals are united in becoming engaged members and participants. This unity does not equate to a homogenized group, rather it leads to a mutual relationship among members who are connected to the common interests of their community of practice. Wenger (1998) adds depth to the relationships formed through common interests by explicitly discussing the cursory elements of human interactions on which communities of practice are not constructed: social and cultural categories, a group of people engaged in conversation, or individuals located within certain geographic proximities. In the construction of a community of practice, mutual engagement underscores human interactions by further investigating the interplay of identity and participation among individuals as it creates an environment for learning.
Identity formation is crucial to learning in a community of practice (Wenger, 2000). Identity in this sense is not a static position, nor is it constructed or constituted solely by the individual. It is a developmental process by which each individual incorporates past experiences with present circumstances within a social environment. Those experiences also contribute to an “interdependent system in which individuals are part of or connected to something larger” (Buysse et al., 2003, p. 267). Furthermore, since members are united by a common interest, they may bring with them much diversity through their unique social, cultural, political and economic trajectories. This diversity leads to a more heterogeneous group of people, and through the heterogeneity and diversity of individual trajectories, communities of practice may endure tensions and struggles in their engagements. Lave and Wenger (1991) recognized the nature of conflict in social interactions and viewed these issues as evidence of “sociocultural transformation” within a community (p.49). Moreover, these tensions and struggles lead to developments throughout a community of practice and within an individual. Individuals can learn from the trajectories that others bring to a community of practice to expand and add to each member’s own identities (Lave, 1991; Wenger, 1998, 2000).
The diversity of identity in a community of practice has led many researchers to examine implications and effects of tension and struggle within a group that is connected by a common interest.

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Holland & Lave (2001) have looked more into the unique backgrounds of individuals, finding the possibility of diversity leading toward complex engagement and participation in a community of practice. They also see identity as a continual transformation, but find tension and struggle among members due to “historical structures of privilege, rooted in class, race, gender, and other social divisions” (p. 5). Furthermore, their work connects the spatiotemporal spheres of struggles within a local practice and the struggles of historical interrelations among social groups. Communities of practice, they emphasize, can be sites of mediations between intimate, interiorized practices of identity as well as years of conflict in race and class relations, rights of oppression, gender inequalities, forms of capitalism

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