Chapter 1, Meaning

from Etienne Wenger’s Communities of Practice, p51

“Practice is, first and foremost, a process by which we can experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful”

Practice here is both theory and practice.

“Practice is about meaning as an experience of everyday life”

He argues, regarding meaning that it is “located in a process I will call the negotiation of meaning“, involves the interaction of “participation and reification

(Reification usually means either  treatin the abstract as if it is real, or, if you are a Marxist, representing human beings as devoid of individuality, as units of labour)

He also argues the above constitute “a dualoity that is fundamental to the human experience of meaning”

Negotiation of meaning

Oh dear. It’s all very Continental. As in, not Analytic. Negotiated meaning is what we do when we experience. Even experiences we have had before, and are repeating, are negotiated anew. It’s somewhat vaguely put, and vaguely described (it is not argued), and vague descriptions are the enemy of argument, reason and sound judgement.

I don’t disagree with him. But I was hoping for a clearer, more definite, well constructed exposition.

Our negotoiation is a work in progress, an ebb and flow between us, and the world, and the people who co-inhabit it, our experiences, history, needs, and it is a to and fro. It is in our negotiation of the meaning of a piece of art, or in our eating of a cafeteria lunch for the ten hundredth time.

Wenger’s language is at times loaded, unqualified, and frankly loose. He talks of coercing claims into processible forms. The use of coersion here is hugely loaded. And yet he doesn’t qualify it at all. It’s aggressive, implies force and resistance, unwillingness, that the claim has volition in some way. It’s violent. And it’s ridiculous to use it without qualifying it. Using it invokes a realm of ideas and suppositions that he has not argued for. It’s indulgent.

Again, I might actually agree with him. But not because he has given me any reason to.

He turns to the idea of Participation – a constituent part of the negotiation of meaning.


More vagueness. Dear Lord. We recognise a mutuality in each other, and partake of each other’s mutuality, becoming each other in a sense.  I have the growing sense that I’m going to experience a piece of work devoid of data, evidence or anything of that kind. This is a theoretical piece. Wenger is a theoretician. But one who asserts his theories are true. And to assert truthg, meaningfully, you need evidence. Otherwise your assertions have no more meaning, falsifiability, or accessibility to negotiation than those of David Icke or true believers.

There’s a dictum in science, that a good hypothesis is testable, because, through testing, to destruction, you can determine it’s truth. Hypotheses which are accurate, carefully drafted, clearly argued, with precision, detail and transparency can be falsified, and, because they can be falsified, we can meaningfully investigate their validity, or invalidity.

Hypotheses which are vague, whose mechanisms are oblique, or obfuscated, whose argumentation is opaque and effervescent, whose detail is uncertain or vague, and which lack transparency are not good hypotheses. They are nit available for meaningful investigation, they are unfalsifiable. I wonder if Wenger’s hypotheses are of the first or second camp.

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