Book Notes & Thoughts: Communities of Practice, Part I

Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, by Etienne Wenger

At the end of my first two semesters in graduate school, I think I know just enough now to know that I do not know what I want to study or how I want to study it. I am still interested in networks, leadership, and change, but do not know the level at which I want to resolve those ideas, much less how I would study it. Much of the work I want to do this summer and fall is searching for a conceptual frame that helps me describe my observations in a way that moves understanding (mine and research generally) forward. I’m beginning this here with Communities of Practice.

Reading this was slow, especially coming off of the three previous books I’ve written about (Connected, Where Good Ideas Come From, and Disrupting Class), which were popular nonfiction, written to be engaging to a general audience. Communities of Practice is definitely aimed for an academic audience, and “presents a theory of learning that starts with this assumption: engagement in social practice is the fundamental process by which we learn and so become who we are.” This assumption is not how I have previously conceived learning. I think it is pretty typical in a Western, individualist society to think of learning as something individuals do, with teaching as something we do to others, not as something created between us. Continue reading “Book Notes & Thoughts: Communities of Practice, Part I”

Book Notes & Thoughts: Where Good Ideas Come From


I’m not sure what is more geeky: my favorite chemistry graph itself or the fact that I have one. But seriously, the phase diagram is so elegant! In one picture, it explains how temperature and pressure relate to the states of matter. The lines are phase transitions (like condensation, sublimation, and solidification), interesting edges for investigation to understand how the particles behave.

What does this have to do with my reading? Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, draws from many examples of innovation across history and across disciplines, many of which are from science, but in particular he uses the analogy of “liquid networks.” In a liquid, there is enough structure for particles to mix and combine but enough energy for them to move around and slide past each other whereas in a solid they would just be stuck in place and in a gas they would collide and fly away. In his analogy, the particles in a liquid social network are ideas and people.

Continue reading “Book Notes & Thoughts: Where Good Ideas Come From”