Communities of Practice - TCCT as the formation of a Community of Practice

During my trip to Glasgow International I had a brief but very useful meeting with Deborah Jackson, the curator of MAP Project in the festival and also Head of Visual Culture Department at Edinburgh Art School. This led me to her text 'Approaching Alternative Organisation'. The paper discusses the social theories of 'communities of practice', a concept which is used to 'explore and conceptualise the complexity of the interaction between Higher Education institutions and self organised artist run institutions.'

The idea of communites of practice stems from educational theorist and practitioner Etiienne Wenger, with his paper 'Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System (1998). In this paper Wenger defines communities of practice in which members are informally bound bound by what they do together, and also bound by what they have learned through their mutual engagement with activities. He states that communities of practice are in enterpirse as understood and continually negotiated by its members, that the relationships of mutual engagement bind members into a social entity, and that a shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artifacts, vocabulary etc) are developed over time by members. Wenger states that these communities develop around things which matter to people, and that in essense communities of practice are fundamentally self organising systems.

Wegner states that they are a 'different cut' on the organisational structure, one that the emphasis is the learning that people have done together rather than who they report to. A community of practice is different to a network in the sense that it is about something, not just relationships. That it is a shared practice in collective learning.  He outlines the differing types of relationships to official organisation and the differing degrees of institutional involvement.

Wenger tells us that Communities of practice are important to the functioning of any organisation, but especially crucial to those who see knowledge as a key asset.

They become:

1. Nodes for the exchange and interpretation of information. Because members have a shared understanding, they know what is relevant to communicate and how to present information in useful ways.

2. They can retain knowledge in 'living ways' unlike a database, spreadsheet etc They preserve tactic knowledge that formal systems cannot capture.

3. They provide homes for 'identities' They are not temporary teams. She states that having a sense of identity is crucial to aspects of learning in organisations.

Wegner also talks about 'boundaries'. In that communities of practice can structure and organise learning through the knowledge they develop at their core and through interactions at their boundaries.

Deborah Jacksons paper looks towards communities of practice as a tool with which to counter the 'hidden cirriculum' in which dominant values and perceptions have come to be institutionalised, and are thus reflected in formal structures and social  norms and organisation of HE institutions. In her paper she considers communities of practice as a new form of engagement within institutions in order to counter the reproduction of hidden cirriculum, and that activities that may be considered co-curricular can construct cirriculum in HE arts institutions, meaning communites of practice can indeed have an impact on pedagogy.

Jackson goes on to outline two phases of insitutional critique, firslty with the May 68 paris riots, moving on to the second phase, New Institutionalism which emerged in the late 1990s which focused on developing a 'sociological view' of how institutions interact and their effect on society and culture. She notes a new phase of institutional critique has now emerged which take into account political, economic and technological developments that have 'had a major impact on art education'. This new wave looks to alternative models of institutions within the field of art itself.

She goes on to note that while much of this interest is exterior to formal arts institutions, 'the opportunity should not be missed by HE institutions to function as critical link between practices inside and outside the institution'.

Most useful to my own studies is the understanding of the 'hidden ciriculum' and as Jackson cites, the values such as individualism, competitiveness, and the acceptance of 'hierarchical authority are transmitted through the conditions of learning and structures of HE organisations'. It is these very conditions of learning, that stand in direct opposition to creative and transdisciplinary relationships being formed outside and on the borders, and which impede collaborations. Jackson states that ' While collaboration may be encouraged in the arts institution and that it is recognised as integral to arts practice that nonetheless, the impact collaboration can have upon individual and collective development is both  neglected and unresolved in the organisational structures of HE.

Jackson tells us that  the idea of a deeper participation in a community of practice within HE has gained momentum, and that communities of practice can be a method which might re-frame the role of the individual and facilitate innovative knowledge sharing. She states that this will 'foster the conditions for exploratory, speculative as well as goal orientated learning', and can 'counter the behaviourist and instrumentalist view of learning that is reproduced through the hidden cirriculum'.  The key is that 'communities of practice are an organisational strategy that can advance institutional transformation so that collective ontologies are prioritised'. In conclusion to her paper she stated that "Ultimately the challenge faced in negotiating institutional structures can be instigated by rethinking the existing relations, and by acknowledging that associations are not stable or fixed'.