Tuesday, September 13, 2005

stumbling toward performance

Here, as in Fleck’s book, a main issue is the relationship of knowledge to social groups or “communities”. In Fleck, however, a more central issue was the knowledge itself and its production (i.e. Fleck was doing epistemology), so a full account of the individual’s role was not treated very directly or in great depth, though the issue was present in some degree. This time, however, the main issue is learning (which _sort_ of makes this pedagogy- it’s funny that I can’t immediately think of a Latin-/Greek-derived word that means the study of “learning”), so the role of the individual is central. This book is more explicit about the individual person and his/her role in thought communities and knowledge production.

L and W make the point that individuals are crucial to a knowledge-producing community since “the larger community of practitioners reproduced itself through the formation of apprentices,” (16 this is unfortunately from the foreword). However, the actions of the individuals, their agency within the group, are constrained by the established knowledge and practices of the group. An individual becomes a member of a group only by learning to perform certain actions that are already established within the group. In other words, in order to be taken seriously by and get anything done within the group, s/he can’t do “whatever s/he wants,” but must learn to imitate what is normal within the group. Two things here:

1) For L and W, knowledge is, as it was for Fleck, the “property” of the group. An individual member, then, does not “possess” that knowledge (because what exactly does it mean to “possess”, “have”, or “own” knowledge?) but “demonstrates” or “applies” that knowledge by performing certain activities. This challenges the distinctions between “abstract knowledge” and “real-life application” (33-4) and between the “inside” (of the mind where knowledge is collected) and the “outside” (of the world where things happen and objects are used).

2) Because there is “no such simple thing as ‘central participation,’” but only a variety of ways to participate peripherally, L and W’s understanding of social practices leaves much room for change (though it is gradual, as it was in Fleck’s description). Group membership depends on gradually imitating expert activities, but since there is no single true expert, i.e. no center to the group, these “imitations” are always approximate. Changes in group knowledge and definition occur as a result of these approximate imitations.

The close relationship of group identity, performance of actions, and the illusoriness of “internalized” knowledge reminds me of Judith Butler's notion of gender performance in Gender Trouble.


Blogger mdl said...

Hi there--I like your reference to Butler. This seems very pertinent to me too...especially in terms of the concept of mimicry. It would be interesting to read some articles where these two phenomena are considered in tandem (learning within organizational structures and the reenactment, reinforcement, or reshaping of gender constructions). It seems to me that one thing that may be missing in this particular account is a discussion of power. They talk about the necessity of available access to learning opportunities that enable a kind of mobility (they use different words), but is it always in an organization's best interest to make such things accessible? As the authors concede, apprenticeships can function to serve interests other than an individual's need to learn. Yet, LPP is framed as an inherently positive phenomenon. Does this matter? What am I saying? I dunno.

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