" . . . In A. A. success, or recovery, requires learning to perceive oneself and one's problems from an A. A. perspective. A. A.s must learn to experience their problems as drinking problems, and themselves as alcoholics. Stories do not just describe a life in a learned genre, but are tools for reinterpreting the past, and understanding the self in terms of the A. A. identity. The initiate begins to identify with A. A. members. . . . She comes to understand herself as a nondrinking alcoholic, and to reinterpret her life as evidence.”
[Carol Cain quoted in]
Cain, Carol. Becoming a non-drinking alcoholic: A
case study in identity acquisition. Anthropology Department.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“Further, given a relational understanding of person, world, and activity, participation, at the core of our theory of learning, can be neither fully internalized as knowledge structures nor fully externalized as instrumental artifacts or overarching activity structures. Participation is always based on situated negotiation and renegotiation of meaning in the world. This implies that understanding and experience are in constant interaction – indeed, are mutually constitutive. The notion of participation thus dissolves dichotomies between cerebral and embodied activity, between contemplation and involvement, between abstraction and experience: persons, actions, and the world are implicated in all thought, speech, knowing, and learning.”
“Conventional explanations view learning as a process by which a learner internalizes knowledge, whether ‘discovered,’ ‘transmitted’ from others, or ‘experienced in interaction’ with others. This focus on internalization does not just leave the nature of the learner, of the world, and of their relations unexplored; it can only reflect far-reaching assumptions concerning these issues. It establishes a sharp dichotomy between inside and outside, suggests that knowledge is largely cerebral, and takes the individual as the nonproblematic unit of analysis. Furthermore, learning as internalization is too easily construed as an unproblematic process of absorbing the given as a matter of transmission and assimilation”
“[the concept of situated learning we were developing] took on the proportions of a general theoretical perspective, the basis of claims about the relational character of knowledge and learning, about the negotiated character of meaning, and about the concerned (engaged, dilemma-driven) nature of learning activity for the people involved. That perspective meant that there is no activity that is not situated. It implied emphasis on comprehensive understanding involving the whole person rather than ‘receiving’ a body of factual knowledge about the world; on activity in and with the world; and on the view that agent, activity, and the world mutually constitute each other.”
“Legitimate peripheral participation” provides a way to speak about the relations between newcomers and old-timers, and about activities, identities, artifacts, and communities of knowledge and practice. It concerns the process by which newcomers become part of a community of practice. A person’s intentions to learn are engaged and the meaning of learning is configured through the process of becoming a full participant in a sociocultural practice. This social process includes, indeed it subsumes, the learning of knowledgeable skills.
...where there is no cultural identity encompassing the activity in which newcomers participate and no field of mature practice for what is being learned, exchange value replaces the use value of increasing participation. The commoditization of learning engenders a fundamental contradiction between the use and exchange value of the outcome of learning, which manifests itself in conflicts between learning to know and learning to display knowledge for evaluation. testing in schools and trade schools (unnecessary in situations of apprenticeship learning) is perhaps the most pervasive and salient example of a way of establishing the exchange value of knowledge. Test taking then becomes a new parasitic practice, the goal of which is to increase the exchange value of learning independently of it [sic] use value.
Acceptance by and interaction with acknowledged adept practitioners make learning legitimate and of value from the point of view of the apprentice. More generally, learning in practice, apprentice learners know that there is a field for the mature practice of what they are learning to do – midwifing tailoring, quartermastering, butchering, or being sober. The community of midwives, tailors, quartermasters, butchers, or nondrinking alcoholics and their productive relations with the world provide apprentice with these continuity-based "futures."
If masters don't teach, they embody practice at its fullest sense in the community of practice. Becoming a "member such as those" is an embodied telos too complex to be discussed in the narrow and simpler language of goals, tasks, and knowledge acquisition. There may be no language for participants with which to discuss it at all – but identities of mastery, in all their complications, are there to be assumed (in both senses).
A community of practice is an intrinsic condition for the existence of knowledge, not least because it provides the interpretive support necessary for making sense of its heritage. Thus, participation in the cultural practice in which any knowledge exists is an epistemological principle of learning. The social structure of this practice, its power relations, and its conditions for legitimacy define possibilities for learning.
In summary, rather than learning by replicating the performance of others or by acquiring knowledge transmitted in instruction, we suggest that learning occurs through centripetal participation in the learning curriculum of the ambient community. Because the place of knowledge is within a community of practice, questions of learning must be addressed within the developmental cycles of that community, a recommendation which creates a diagnostic tool for distinguishing among communities of practice.