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  • Cited by 18
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: November 2009

2 - Language and power in communities of practice

Summary

In this chapter, I argue that elements of theories developed within the field of the critical and social study of language could develop the theory of communities of practice, by offering a clearer understanding of the role of language within the process of negotiation of meaning. We have already mentioned in the introduction the need for a more fully developed theory of language within the theory of communities of practice. This chapter explores models from critical social linguistics which elaborate notions left unexplained in Wenger's model and offer theoretical and methodological tools for addressing some significant issues which remain unexplored, demonstrating this by reanalysing some of the example material from Wenger's 1998 book.

PRACTICE AND MEANING

I will begin by exploring the place of language within the theory as it currently stands, particularly the implicit importance of language as a form of meaning making within Wenger's development of the concept of practice. The concept of ‘practice’ is central to his conceptualisation of learning in communities. He defines practice as “doing, but not just doing in and of itself. It is doing in a historical and social context that gives structure and meaning to what we do” (1998:47). This concept of ‘social practice’ offers a way of analysing human activity which brings together the cognitive and the social aspects of human existence.

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