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  4. Engeström Y (2007) From communities of practice to mycorrhizae

Engeström Y (2007) From communities of practice to mycorrhizae

Resource author

Yrjö Engeström

Resource type



When Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) introduced the notion of communities of practice in their book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, their ideas had a widespread refreshing impact on studies of learning. Acquisition was replaced by participation as the key metaphor and mechanism of learning. Analysis was extended beyond the skin of the individual, to encompass the entire community involved in a given productive practice. Learning was shown to be an inevitable aspect of all productive practices, not a specific process mainly or exclusively limited to schools and other institutions of formal learning.

Subsequently Wenger’s (1998) work brought the notion of communities of practice to the consciousness and vocabulary of management practitioners and organizational scholars. Wenger developed a rich conceptual framework around the concept of community of practice and turned it into a toolkit for organizational design and knowledge management (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002).

Despite its virtues, the notion of community of practice is a quite a historical way to conceptualize work communities. In this chapter, I will first assess some strengths and limitations of this notion. I will then discuss the recent attempt of Paul Adler and Charles Heckscher (2006) to analyze firms as historically evolving communities. After that, I will push the historical view further, to identify some emergent features in human activities that seem to open up a radically new landscape of widely dispersed, fluctuating and weakly bounded community forms. These features are particularly evident in new forms of peer production or social production, most prominently in the Open Source movement of software production, that have emerged along with the evolution of the Internet. I will introduce the concept of mycorrhizae to capture the quality of these new forms. I will conclude with a discussion of the potentials of mycorrhizae-like activities to take root and spread in domains such as medicine.

This paper has been published as: Engeström, Y. (2007). From communities of practice to mycorrhizae. In J. Hughes, N. Jewson & L. Unwin (Eds.), Communities of practice: Critical perspectives. London: Routledge.


Engeström Y (2007) From communities of practice to mycorrhizae Engeström Y (2007) From communities of practice to mycorrhizae

Date added

19th Dec 2007