Wenger’s Criteria for Modes of Identification Within Communities

  • Engagement-  “This is the most immediate relation to a practice—engaging in activities, doing things, working alone or together, talking, using and producing artifacts. Engagement gives us direct experience of regimes of competence, whether this experience is one of competence or incompetence and whether we develop an identity of participation or non-participation.”
  • Imagination- ” As we engage with the world we are also constructing an image of the world that helps us understand how we belong or not. If you work as a social worker in a given city, you know that there are countless other social workers in other contexts and you can use your imagination to create a picture of all these social workers and see yourself as one of them. We use such images of the world to locate and orient ourselves, to see ourselves from a different perspective, to reflect on our situation, and to explore new possibilities. The world provides us with many tools of imagination (e.g., language, stories, maps, visits, pictures, TV shows, role models, etc.). These images are essential to our interpretation of our participation in the social world. Imagination can create relations of identification that are as significant as those derived from engagement.”
  • Alignment-  “Our engagement in practice is rarely effective without some degree of alignment with the context—making sure that activities are coordinated, that laws are followed, or that intentions are communicated. Note that the notion of alignment here is not merely compliance or passive acquiescence; it is not a one-way process of submitting to external authority or following a prescription. Rather it is a two-way process of coordinating perspectives, interpretations, actions, and contexts so that action has the effects we expect. Following directions or negotiating a plan are forms of alignment as are enlisting a colleague’s collaboration or convincing a manager to change a policy. Whichever way they go, these processes of alignment give rise to relations of identification: applying the scientific method, abiding by a moral code, joining a strike, or recycling can all become very deep aspects of our identities.”

“All three modes function both inside practices and across boundaries. Engagement is typical of participation in the communities we belong to, but it can also be a way to explore a boundary if we can have enough access to the practice. Imagination functions inside a community as members make assumption about each other and talk about their future, but it can also travel without limits and is a way to experience identification way beyond our engagement. And a community’s local regime of competence entails alignment, as do broader systems, such as setting the goal of an organization or the laws of a country.”

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