Chapter 4, Boundaries

n Communities of Practice, Etienne Wenger

Moving from one COP to another can involve quite a tranformation. Simultaneously, COPs develop means of communicating with the outside world. Artefacts are shared, practices belong to other COPs, their enterprises are interconnected, members are exchanged, or shard. Their histories “are histories of articulation with the rest of the world”.

The links to other cop’s can be complex. Teachers, for example, link in to educational bureaucrats, academics, theoreticians, the police, social services, religious, advocacy and health education groups, cleaning and maintainance staff, IT staff etc etc

The duality of Boundary relations:

Boundaries may be reified explicitly, with markers. Dress, rites, tattos etc, or not. The absence of markers doesn;lt mean that the boundary is loose, either. Cliques for example, elites, old boys networks that hide their ties?

That said, we can be members of multiple cops at once, and some reified artefacts are shared (buildings for example, twitter, ) and are nexuses.

2 types of connections

1) “boundary objects” – reifications around which cop’s can organise interconnections

2) “brokering”  0-connections provided by people who can intro elements of one practice into another

brokering is especially interesting to me, being a function of weak links, and net based connections in cMOOCs.

Boundary objects

In the claims office, the claims form is an eg – it’s designed to communicate between different practices. In teaching, this is perhaps at…PTA’s. It’s the reports and forms educators fill out and post for ministry inspection. It’s the Unions, and associations. It;s the inspections and educator assessments. It;s the points systems and exam results, it’s the grading and accreditation, it;s work placements and internships. The students are boundary objects in a sense. So is the curriculum.


People who communicate, import export practices, ideas, artefacts etc across practices. Sometimes it;s because they have been imported from one to another, and can see and understand differences. Sometimes it;s nbecause that person is naturally a broker, and gravitates to the boundary rather than the core. They enjoy being a broker. Oh, and brokering can happen in many ways. People can broker between work cops, but they can also bring work stuff into their home lives.

Characteristics of brokers…

must have enough legitimacy to influebce a practice, mobilise attention, and addrss conflicting interests, the ability to link practices by faciltating transactions, , and cause learning by introing other practices.

Managers (eg team leaders – neither management nor worker)can be brokers, and uncom,fortably so – brokering can be an uncomfortable position.

Brokers are neither in nor our of practices, and will often feel pressure in both directions, which they must weather/resist in order to remain brokers. They may also be isolated from the core competencies of the practice, and may have difficulties in terms of seeing themselves as copmpetent.

Boundareis are both to keep people out, and in.

There is such a thing as a boundary practice – a practice that develops fro, say, a delegation, whose jog it is to translate, negotiate., and render permeable the boundary.


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