Monday, February 25, 2013

Participation in a community of practice - non-participation as peripheral or marginal

Re-reading parts of Wenger, E. (1998). Communities ofPractice (CoP): Learning, meaning and identity. Getting my head around concepts of participation and non-participation in answer to comments from a peer reviewer on an article I have just re-submitted on the topic of ‘proximal participation’.

Proximal participation arose as a concept in my PhD thesis - 'belonging, becoming and being a baker. The term was used to explain how young people with poor academic attainment and limited idea of career opportunities, fell into a baking apprenticeship. These apprentices had all worked as cleaners, dish washers, retail or catering assistants for period of up to a year in the bakery, before an apprenticeship came up and they were offered an indenture. All of these apprentices provided data about how working in the bakery as ancillary workers, provided them the opportunity to view work in the bakery. Many had started to build relationships with other workers in the bakery and establish a sense of belonging to the workplace. All had little pre-conception as to what the trade of baking entailed. Proximal participation as ancillary workers meant they were exposed to the many work roles in the bakery workplace and to the challenges of craft baking.

Wenger includes an explanation of non- participation as either peripheral or marginal (chapter 7). Peripheral participants are poised on the edge of entry into a CoP and transition into becoming legitimate peripheral participants (LPPs) if individuals are keen to become members of a CoP. On the other end, marginal participants may be prevented through lack of social capital or mismatch of interests from actually becoming LPPs. I sort of see the role of proximal participation as assisting individuals to find out if they are an affinity to the CoP they are partially immersed into. If they see a fit, then at some stage, the proximal participation itself provides opportunities for them to build relationships with other CoP members. These relationships may ease the transition of marginal participants into becoming LLPs, circumventing individuals’ difficulties in entering the CoP.