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Part I: Practice
lil ltr Lil
world.I will end by arguingthat boundariesof practiceare not simple linesof demarcation betweeninsideand outside,but form a complex sociallandscape ofboundariesand peripheries. ' Practiceas locality. chapter 5 addresses the scope and limits of the conceptof community of practice.I will discuss when to view a social configuration asone community or as a consteilationof communities of practice.I will thus start talking about other leversof socialstructure, but still in terms of practice.I will leavethe discussion other of types ofstructuring processes Part IL for ' Knowing in practice. coda I ends this discussion practice of with a brief essayon knowing in practice.Echoing rhe argumentof part I, I will summarizethe themes introduced in each chapter by using them to ponder what it meansto know in practice.This wil result in a definitionof learningasan interplayof experience competence. and Because coda I givesan overviewof part I, it offersa logical starting point if you like to begin with an overview and are comfortable with terms that are not yet well-defined.You would first see- in a synoptic fashionand in a specificcontext - how the whole argument fits together, and then be able to obtain details by referring to individual chapters.
Our attemptsto understandhuman life open a vast spaceof relevant guestions from the origin of the universeto the workingsof the brain, from the details of every thought to the purpose of life. In this vast rpace of questions,the concept of practice is useful for addressinga Practiceis, of rpecific slice:a focus on the experience meaningfulness. the by first and foremost,a process which we can experience world and with it as meaningful. our engagement in Of course,in order to engage practice,we must be alive in a world in which we can act and interact.We must havea body with a brain that is functioning well enough to participate in social communities. We must have waysto communicate with one another.But a focus on practice is not merely a functional perspectiveon human activities,even simply the rctivities involving multiple individuals.It doesnot address mechanicsof getting somethingdone, individually or in groups; it is perspective. includesnot just bodies(or even coorIt not a mechanical just brains (evencoordinatedones),but moredinatedbodies)and not over that which gives meaningto the motions of bodies and the workings of brains.t Let me illustrate this point by analogyto a work of art. There are all brushes, involved in producinga painting: a canvas, sortsof mechanics techniques.The image itself is but a color pigments,and sophisticated thin veneer.Yet in the end, for the painter and for the viewer, it is the of paintingasan experience meaningthat counts.Similarly, in the purin we suit of our enterprises, engage all sortsof activitieswith complex bodiesthat are the result of millennia of evolution.Still, in the end, it is the meaningswe produce that matter. is This focuson meaningfulness thereforenot primarily on the technicalities of "meaning." It is not on meaning as it sits locked up in It dictionaries. is not iust on meaningas a relation betweena sign and But neitheris it on meaningas a grandquestion on the reference. a 5l
Part I: Practice
meaningof life as a philosophical issue.Practice aboutmeaning an is as ercperience eaeryd.ay of life. If the kind of meaningI am interestedin is an experience, and if it is not the kind we can find in dictionarydefinitionsor in philosophical discussions, then I need to address questionsof where it is located the and how it is constituted.In this chapter,I will first arguethat: l) 2) 3) meaning is located in a processI will call the negotiation of meaning the negotiation meaninginvolvesthe interactionof two conof stituent processes, which I will call participation and reifcation participationand reificationform a duality that is fundamental to the human experience meaningand thus to the nature of of practice.
These conceptsare essential my argument, and I will start by ex-. to plaining in some detail what I mean by them and just why they are important. Negotiation of meaning The experience meaningis not producedout of thin air, but of neither is it simply a mechanical realization a routine or a procedure. of For Ariel, no two claimsare the same,even though she has learnedto Indeed,medicalclaims coercetheseclaimsinto manageable categories. processing largely a classificatory is activity. Its purpose is to impose in standards sameness difference the midst of a flow of changeso of and that claims can be recognizedas belonging to categories amenableto well-understood treatment.But for Ariel. this routinizationmust constantly be achieved anew,claim after claim. in Our engagement practicemay have patterns,but it is the production of suchpatternsanewthat givesrise to an experience meaning. of When we sit down for lunch for the thousandthtime with the samecolleagues the samecafeteria, haveseenit all before.We know all the in we steps.We may even know today'smenu by heart; we may love it or we may dread it. And yet we eat again,we taste again.We may know our very well, and yet we repeatedlyengagein conversations. colleagues All that we do and saymay refer to what hasbeen done and said in the past,and yet we produceagaina new situation,an impression, expean rience: we produce meaningsthat extend, redirect, dismiss,reinterpret, modify or confirm - in a word, negotiateanew- the historiesof
meanings which they are part. In this sense, of living is a constantprocessof negotiation neaning. of I will use the concept of negotiationof meaning very generallyto characterize process which we experience world and our enthe by the gagementin it as meaningful.2 Whether we are talking, acting, thinking, solving problems,or daydreaming, are concernedwith meanwe ings. I have argued that even routine activitieslike claims processing or eating in a cafeteriainvolve the negotiationof meaning,but it is all the more true when we are involved in activitiesthat we care about or that presentus with challenges: when we look in wonder at a beautiful landscape, when we closea delicatedeal,when we go on a specialdate, when we solvea difficult mystery,when we listen to a moving piece of music,when we read a good book, or when we mourn a dear friend. In suchcases, intensity of the process obvious,but the sameprocess the is is at work evenif what we end up negotiatingturns out to be an experienceof meaninglessness. Human engagement the world is first and in foremosta process negotiatingmeaning.3 of The negotiationof meaningmay involve language, it is not limbut ited to it. It includesour socialrelationsas factorsin the negotiation, involve a conversation even direct interbut it doesnot necessarily or oction with other human beings.The conceptof negotiationoften denotes reaching an agreementbetween people, as in "negotiating a price," but it is not limited to that usage.It is alsoused to suggestan accomplishment that requiressustained attentionand readjustment, as in "negotiatinga sharp curve." I want to captureboth aspects once, at in order to suggest that living meaningfullyimplies: l) 2) 3) +) 5) 6) an active processof producing meaning that is both dynamic and historical a world of both resistance and malleability the mutual ability to affectand to be affected the engagement a multiplicity of factorsand perspectives of the productionofa new resolutionto the convergence ofthese factorsand perspectives the incompleteness this resolution,which canbe partial, tenof tative, ephemeral,and specificto a situation.
I intend the term negotiation conveya flavor ofcontinuous interto By and tction, of gradualachievement, of give-and-take. living in the just make meanings independently the world, world we do not up of
Part I: Practice
Chapter l: Meaning
on but neitherdoesthe world simply imposemeanings us. The negotiabut tion of meaningis a productiveprocess, negotiatingmeaningis not it Meaning is not pre-existing,but neither is constructing from scratch. it simply made up. Negotiatedmeaningis at once both historicaland dynamic,contextualand unique. The negotiationof meaningis a processthat is shapedby multiple elementsand that affectstheseelements.As a result, this negotiation the constantlychanges situationsto which it givesmeaningand affects all participants.In this process,negotiatingmeaning entails both interpretation and action. In fact, this perspectivedoes not imply a fundamental distinction between interpreting and acting, doing and All and responding. are part of the ongoing thinking, or understanding new cirprocess negotiating meaning.This process alwaysgenerates of It for cumstances further negotiationand further meanings. constantly producesnew relations with and in the world. The meaningfulness in of our engagement the world is not a stateof affairs,but a continual process renewed negotiation.a of meaningis alwaysthe product of its negotiaFrom this perspective, Meanof tion, by which I meanthat it existsin this process negotiation. relation of ing existsneither in us, nor in the world, but in the dynamic living in the world. meaning Thedynamics negotiated of like Ariel The processing a given claim form by a processor of is an exampleof the negotiationof meaning. It takesplace in a conof text that combinesa vast array of factors,including the organization training the processor industry,the officialand unofficial the insurance with underwent, the way the particular claim looks, past experiences similar claims,the way the day is going, who elseis around,what else is happening,and so on. The contextsthat contribute to shapingthe experience a claim reachfar and wide in time and space. of When Ariel grabs a new claim, she may not know exactly what to do, but she is in familiar territory. Even if there is a problem, she may be annoyedbut she is not surprised;it will be resolvedeventually.In of fact, she can hardly recall the tentativeness that first day,the unsetout during of tling mysteriousness thosetraining weeks,the reaching her first monthson the floor, when just about every claim she was proso It presented problemor another. had seemed big then cessing one
claims processing,Alinsu, the medical establishment. But now it is farniliar. It is her job, and she is reasonably good at it. The claim too comes with a history. It started out as a blank form designed by technicalspecialists Alinsu. Ir was approvedby various at professional associations before it was printed. It was sent to a client corrrpany where a benefit representative distributed it to an employee. It was partially filled out by that employeeand submitted to medical professionalswho completedit. Then it was sent back to Alinsu, where it was first sorted by clerical personnel to be routed in a bundle to Ariel's processingunit. And now it is on her desk,to be coerced somehow into the confinesof the processible. Processing claims requires a very specificway of looking at a claim form. The ability to interpret a claim form reflects the relations that both the claim and Ariel have to particular practices.Ariel contributes to the negotiation of meaningby being a member of a community and bringing to bear her history of participation in its practice. similarly, the claim contributes to this processby reflecting aspectsof practice that have been congealed it and fixed in its shape.I would saythat the in processorasa member of a community of practiceembodiesa long and diverse processof what I will call participation similarly, the claim as rn artifact of certain practicesembodiesa long and diverse processof what I will call reifcation. It is in the convergence these tw' proof in cesses the act of processing claim that the negotiationof meaning the takes place. As a pair, participation and reificationrefer to a duality fundamental ro the negotiation of meaning.In order to clarify why this is so, I will first discusseachterm separately beforeturning to the duality that their complementarityforms. Participation My use of the term participationfallswithin common usage.It is therefore helpful to start with webster's definition: "To have or take i pirrt or sharewith others(in someactivity,enterprise, etc.)." particirefers to a process taking part and alsoto the relationswith of Pirtion 'thcrs that reflect this process. suggests It both actionand connection. In this brok, I will use the term participation describethe social to erpcricncc of living in rhe world in termsof membership socialcomin participation rrrrrnilics irnclactivc involvcmcntin socialenterprises.
Part I: Practice
li ir lrl I
in this senseis both personal and social. It is a complex processthat combines doing, talking, thinking, feeling, and belonging.It involves our whole person, including our bodies, minds, emotions, and social relations. Participation is an active process, but I will reserve the term for actors who are members of social communities. For instance. will not I say that a computer "participates" in a community of practice, even though it may be part of that practice and play an activerole in getting certain things done.sNeither will I say that a fish in its bowl in the living room participatesin a family. But I would be open to consideringthat a family dog, for instance, participates in some peripheralbut real way participationis in that family. In this regard, what I take to characterize the possibility of mutual recognition. When we shavea piece of wood or mold a piece of clay, we do not construe our shapingtheseobjectsas contributing to their experience of meaning. But when we engagein a conversation,we somehow recognize in each other somethingof ourselves,which we address.What we recognize hasto do with our mutual ability to negotiate meaning. This mutuality does not, however,entail equality or respect. The relations between parentsand children or between workers and their direct supervisor are mutual in the sensethat participants shape each other's experiences of meaning. In doing so, they can recognize something of themselves in each other. But these are not relations of equality. In practice, even the meaningsof inequality are negotiatedin the context of this processof mutual recognition. In this experienceof mutuality, participation is a sourceof identity. By recognizing the mutuality of our participation, we becomepart of each other. In fact, the concept of identity is so centralthat I will postpone more detailed discussion until Part II, where it will be the main topic. Here I will just say that a defining characteristic participation of is the possibility of developing an "identity of participation,"that is, an identity constituted through relations of participation. Before I proceed, it is worth clarifying a few more points about my use of the term participation. . Firsl, participation as I will use the term is not tantamountto collaboration. It can involve all kinds of relations. conflictualaswell asharmonious, intimate as well as political, competitive as well as cooperative. . Second,participationin social communities shapes our experience, potential and it also shapesthose communities; the transformativc
goesboth ways.Indeed, our ability (or inability) to shapethe practice of our communities is an important aspect of our experienceof participation. . Finally, as a constituent of meaning, participation is broader than mere engagement practice. Claims processors not claimsproin are just while they work in the office. Of course,that time of incessors tenseengagement with their work and with one anotheris especially significant.But they do not cease to be claims processors five at o'clock. Their participation is not something they simply turn off when they leave.Its effectson their experience not restrictedto are the specificcontext of their engagement. is a part of who they are It that they alwayscarry with them and that will surfaceif, for instance, they themselves happento go to the doctor, fill out an insurance form, or call a customer service center. In this sense,participation goes beyond direct engagementin specific activitieswith specificpeople. It placesthe negotiationof meaning in the context of our forms of membershipin various communities. It is a constituentof our identities. As such, participation is not somethingwe turn on and off. From this perspective, engagementwith the world is social,even our when it does not clearly involve interactions with others. Being in a hotel room by yourself preparing a set of slidesfor a presentationthe next morning may not seemlike a particularly socialevent,yet its meaning is fundamentallysocial.Not only is the audiencethere with you as you attempt to makeyour points understandable them, but your colto are leagues there too, looking over your shoulder, it were,representas ofaccountability to the professional ing for you your sense standards of your community.A child doing homework, a doctor making a decision, e traveler reading a book - all these activities implicitly involve other peoplewho may not be present. The meaningsof what we do are alwayssocial.By "social" I do not refer iust to family dinners,company picnics,schooldances, and church socials.Even drasticisolation- asin rolitary confinement,monasticseclusion,or writing - is given meaning through socialparticipation. The concept of participationis meant to oflife. capturethis profoundlysocialcharacterofour experience Reification The term re'iJication less common than participation.But I is hopc to show that, in conjunctionwith participation, reificationis a
Part I: Practice
very usefulconceptto describeour engagement with the world as productiveof meaning.Again, it will help to start with Webster'sdefinition of reification:"To treat (an abstraction) substantially as existing,or as a concretematerial object."6 Etymologically, term reificationmeans"making into a thing." Its the usage Englishhasa significanttwist, however:it is usedto conveythe in idea that what is turned into a concrete,materialobjectis not properly a concrete,material object. For instance,we make representations of "justice" asa blindfolded maid holding a scale,or use expressions such as "the hand of fate." In everydaydiscourse, like "democracy" or "the econabstractions omy" are often talked about as though they were active agents.When reportsthat "democracytook a blow during a military coup," a newscast or that "the economyreactedslowly to the government'sactionr"the process reificationprovidesa shortcut to communication. of This succinctness derivesfrom a slight illusion of excessive reality, but it is usefulbecause focuses negotiationof meaning.This is the it the subtle idea I want to captureby using the term reification.We project our meaningsinto the world and then we perceivethem as existingin the world, ashaving a reality of their own. For example,my own use of the term reificationin the context of this book is itself a casein point. The term is a projectionof what I mean.It is an abstraction. doesnot It do the work by itself. But after a while, as I use it to think with, it starts talking to me as though it were alive. Whereasin participationwe recognizeourselves eachother, in reificationwe project ourselves in onto the world, and not having to recognizeourselves those projections, in we attribute to our meaningsan independentexistence. This contrast betweenmutuality and projection is an important differencebetween participationand reification. The concept rei,frcation of I will use the conceptof reification very generallyto refer to the process giving form to our experience producingobjectsthat of by congealthis experience into "thingness."In so doing we createpoints of focus around which the negotiationof meaningbecomes organized. Again my use of the term reificationis its own example.I am introducing it into the discoursebecause want to createa new distinction to I point of focusaroundwhich to organizemy discussion. serveasa Writing down a law, creatinga procedure, producinga trxrl is a similar or
process.A certain understandingis given form. This form then becomesa focus for the negotiationof meaning,as peopleuse the law to arguea point, use the procedureto know what to do, or use the tool to perform an action. I would claim that the processof reification so construedis central to every practice. Any community of practice producesabstractions, tools,symbols,stories,terms, and conceptsthat reify somethingof that practicein a congealed form. clearly, I want to use the conceptof reification in a much broader sensethan its dictionary definition. But I want to preservethe connotationsof excessive concreteness and projectedreality that are suggested the dictionarydefinition. Indeed,no by abstraction, tool, or symbolactuallycapturesin its form the practices in the contextof which it contributesto an experience meaning.A medof ical claim, for instance,reifies in its form a complex web of conventions,agreements, expectations, commitments,and obligations, including (on the part of medical professionals) right to bilr for certain the services and the obligationto do so in a srandardizedwayand (on the part of the insurancecompany)the right to decideif the claim is legitimateand duly filled out, togetherwith the obligationto honor the claim if it is.? with the term reificationI mean to cover a wide range of processes that include making, designing,representing,naming, encoding,and describing,as well as perceiving,interpreting, using, reusing, decoding, and recasting.Reificationoccupiesmuch of our collectiveenergy: from entriesin a journal to historicalrecords,from poemsto encyclopedias,from names to classification systems,from dolmens to space probes,from the Constitution to a signatureon a credit card slip, from gourmet recipesto medical procedures,from flashyadvertisements to censusdata, from single conceptsto entire theories,from the evening newsto nationalarchives, from lessonplansto the compilationof textbooks,from private address lists to sophisticated credit reporting databases, from tortuous political speeches the yellow pages.In all these to cases,aspectsof human experienceand practice are congealedinto fixed forms and given the statusof object. Reificationshapes experience. can do so in very concreteways. our It Having a tool to perform an activity changes nature of that activity. rhe A word processor, instance,reifiesa view of the activity of writing, for but alsochanges how one goesabout writing. The effectsof reification canalsobe lessobvious. Reifyingthe concept gravitymay not change of its cffecton our brdics, but it doeschange our experience the worrd of
Part I: Prachce
by focusingour attentionin a particular way and enablingnew kinds of understanding. Similarly,reifying the conceptof body weight asa measure of self-worth doesnot make us heavierbut can weigh heavily on our sense self.The reificationof claimsprocessing of through the type of forms and procedures described Vignette II can detachwork activin ities from other personalexperiences the point where the generally to reificativenatureof the work givesthe job of claimsprocessing partica ular character. Even the regularly scheduledbreaksreify what is work and what is not. Again, I should clarify a few points about my use of the conceptof reificationbeforeproceeding. Reificationcan refer both to a processand its producr, and I will use the term in both senses. This liberty is not just a lack of rigor, but part of the point.If meaning exists only in its negotiation then,at the level of meaning,the process and the product are not distinct. Reification is not just objectification; doesnot end in an object.It does it not simply translatemeaninginto an object.On the contrary,my use of the conceptis meantto suggest that suchtranslationis never possible,and that the process and the product alwaysimply eachother. Claims processors not the designers the rules and forms they are of yet they must absorbthem into their practice.In an institutional use, environmentsuchas a claimsprocessing site, a very large portion of the reification involved in work practicescomes from outside the communitiesof workers.Even so, however,reification must be reappropriatedinto a local processin order to becomemeaningful.8 The process reificationdoesnot necessarily of originatein design.A detectivemay spendmuch time studyingfingerprintson a doorknob; an archaeologist fascinated tracesof ancientlife in a cave.Most is by human activitiesproducemarks in the physicalworld. These marks are vestiges. They freezefleeting moments of engagement pracin tice into monuments,which persistand disappear their own time. in Whether intentionally produced or not, they can then be reintegratedas reificationinto new moments of negotiationof meaning. Reificationcan take a greatvariety of forms: a fleeting smokesignal or an age-old pyramid, an abstractformula or a concretetruck, a small logo or a huge information-processing system,a simple word jotted on a pageor a complex argument developedin a whole book, a telling glanceor a long silence,a private knot on a handkerchiefor a controversial paintingol' statue a public square, impressionist on an a butterflyor a scientific specimen an entomologicllcollcction. in
6l what is imporrant_about theseobjectsis that they are ail onry the tip of an iceberg,which indicatesrargerconrexts significance of realizedin human pracrices. Their characterasreificationis iot onry in their form but also in the processes which they are integratedinto by thesepractices.Properly speaking, productsof reificatilor, the ,rot si_ply corr_ "r" crete' material objects.Rather, they are reflectionsof these practices, tokensof vast expanses human meaninss. of Thedoubleedge reification of As an evocative shortcut,the process ofreification can be very powerful. A politician can reify voters' inarticulate longings in one phrasethat galvanizes support.A good tool can reify an so as to amplify its effectswhile making the activity effortress. ""iiuiiy A procei.rre ca' reify a conceptso that its applicationis automatic.A formula can ex_ pressin a few terms a regularity that pervades the universe. But the power of reification - its succinctness, portability, its its potenrial physicalpersistence, focusing effect its is aiso its danger. The politician'sslogancan becomea substitutefor a deep understanding of and commitment to what it standsfor. The tool ."n orriry procedurescan hide broader ity aroundits inertness. meanings ""tiuin blind sequences operations.And the knowledgeof a formula of c-an lead to the illusion that one fuily understands processes describes. the it The evocativepower of reification is thus double_edged. Classify_ . ing people under broad categoriescan focus attention on a kind of diversity,but the reificationcan give differences and similaritiesa concreteness they do nor actuailypossess. similarly, if an organization displays a statementof varuesin its robby,it has created a reificationof romething that does or should pervadethe organization. Though this "romething" is probably much more diffuse and intangible in- practice, it gainsa new concreteness once framed in the tobb"y. becomes It romething people can point to, refer to, strive for, appealto, and use or misusein arguments'yet, asa reification,it may seemdisconnected, frozeninto a rext that doesnor caprurethe richnessoflived.*f..i"n." ffid.that can be appropriatedin misleadingways. As a focus of at_ lcntion that can be detachedfrom practice,the reification may even be scen with cynicism,as an ironic substitutefor what it was intended lo rcflcct. Indced,my use of the term reification doesnot assume inherent an crrrrcsp'ndcnce hctwccna svmboland a referent, tool and a function, a Ot I phcn,mcn,n lnd ln intcrprctation. thc c'ntrary, the concepr C)n
Part I: Practice
Chapter I: Meaning
of reification suggests that forms can take a life of their own, beyond their contextof origin. They gain a degreeof autonomyfrom the occasion and purposes their production.Their meaningfulness always of is potentiallyexpanded and potentiallylost. Reificationasa constituentof meaningis alwaysincomplete,ongoing,potentially enriching,and potentially misleading.The notion of assigningthe status of object to somethingthat really is not an objectconveys sense mistakensolida of ity, of projectedconcreteness. conveys sense useful illusion.The It a of use of the term reification standsboth as a tribute to the generative power of the process and as a gentlereminder of its delusoryperils. The duality of meaning In their interplay,participationand reificationare both distinct and complementary, suggested the illustrationin Figure l.l.' The as by reificationof a Constitutionis just a form; it is not equivalentto a citizenry.Yet it is empty without the participationof the citizensinvolved. Conversely, productionof sucha reificationis crucial to the kind of the negotiationthat is necessary them to act as citizensand to bring tofor getherthe multiple perspectives, interests, and interpretations that participation entails. participationand reificationcannotbe considAs the figure suggests, ered in isolation:they comeasa pair. They form a unity in their duality. Given one, it is a useful heuristic to wonder where the other is. To understandone,it is necessary understandthe other. To enableone, to it is necessary enable the other. They come about through each to other, but they cannot replaceeach other. It is through their various combinations that they give rise to a variety of experiences meaning. of We don't usuallythink of the experience meaningas a duality beof causethe interplay of participationand reification remainslargely unproblematic.Processes reificationand participationcan be woven so of tightly that the distinction between them seemsalmost blurred. The useof language face-to-face in interactions a good example.Words as is projectionsof human meaning are certainly a form of reification. In face-to-faceinteractions,however, speech is extremely evanescent; words affectthe negotiationof meaningthrough a process that seems like pure participation.As a consequence, words can take advantage of shared participation among interlocutorsto create shortcutsto communication. is this tight interweaving reification It of and participation that makes conversations sucha powerfulform of communicrrtion.
Figure l.l. The duality of participationand reification.
participationand More generally, negotiationof meaningweaves the reification so seamlessly meaning seemsto have its own unitary, that self-contained existence: medicalclaim is a medicalclaim;a smile is a a smile;a jokeis a joke.Of course, is often convenient act asthough it to meanings in actionsor artifactsthemselves. a medicalclaim is inare So deeda medicalclaim; it wasproducedto be a medicalclaim;it existsfor us in a civilizationwhere everythingconcursto makeit a medicalclaim. And yet what it is to be a medicalclaim is alwaysdefinedwith respect to specificforms of participationthat contextualize meaning.It cannot be assumed be intrinsicor universal. to Thecomplementarit.yparticipation of and reffication Although seamlessly woyeninto our practices, complementhe tarity of participationand reificationis somethingfamiliar.We use it as ir matter of coursein order to securesomecontinuity of meaningacross participation retime and space. Indeed,in their complementarity, and ificationcanmakeup for their respective limitations.They cancompensatefor eachother's shortcomings, to speak. so . On the one hand, participationmakesup for the inherent limitations <lfreification. sendambassadors our treaties with We and hire judges t<linterpret<lurlaws;we offer 800 numbersas customerservicefor our productsin rtclclition our carefuldocumentation; convene to we a
Part I: Practtce
I: ChaPter .Meantng
meeting to introduce a new policy in order to avoid misunderstandings; we discuss what we read in order to compare and enrich our interpretations. Participation is essential to repairing the potential misalignments inherent in reification. When the stiffness of its form renders reification obsolete,when its mute ambiguity is misleading, or when its purpose is lost in the distance, then it is participation that comes to the rescue. . On the other hand, reification also makes up for the inherent limitations of participation. We create monuments to remember the dead; we take notes to remind ourselves of decisions made in the past; we share our notes with colleagues who could not attend a meeting; we are surprised by the way someone else describes a common event or object; we clarify our intentions with explanations and representational devices; we coordinate our coming and going with clocks. Mirroring the role of participation, reification is essential to repairing the potential misalignments inherent in participation: when the informality of participation is confusingly loose, when the fluidity of its implicitness impedes coordination, when its locality is too confining or its partiality too narrow, then it is reification that comes to the rescue. One advantageof viewing the negotiation of meaning as constituted by a dual process is that we can consider the various trade-offs involved in the complementarity of participation and reification. lndeed, given an action or an artifact, it becomes a relevant question to ask how the production of meaning is distributed, that is, what is reified and what is left to participation. . A computer program, for instance, could be described as an extreme kind of reification, which can be interpreted by a machine incapable of any participation in its meaning. . A poem, by contrast, is designed to rely on participation, that is, to maximize the work that the ambiguity inherent in its form can do in the negotiation of meaning. From such a perspective, communication is not just a quantitative issue. Indeed, what says more: the few lines of a tightly written poem or a volume of analytical comments on it? The communicative ability of artifacts depends on how the work of negotiating meaning is distributed between reification and participation. Different mixes become differentially productive of meaning.
obviof The complemenrarity participationand reificationyields an of ous but profound principle]or .ndeauorsthat rely on some degree - communication, design,instruction,or collabcontinuiiy of meaning and oration. Participationand reification must be in such proportion When too for relation as to compensate their respectiveshortcomings' continuof much relianceis placedon one at the expense the other, the problematicin practice' ity of meaningis likely to become . If participationprevails- if most of what mattersis left unreified of then there may not be enoughmaterial to anchorthe specificities coordinationandtouncoverdivergingassumptions.Thisiswhylawyers alwayswant everythingin writing' . If reificationprevails- if everythingis reified' but with little opportunityforsharedexperienceandinteractivenegotiation_thenthere -"y no, be enoughoue,l"p in participationto recovera coordinated' putting relevant, or generativemeaning' This helps explain why in everything writing doesnot seemto solveall our problems' in to In casesof mismatches'it is necessary analyzethe situation imbalance'Merely adding more terms of the duality and to redressany not participationto participationor more reificationto reificationmay itself unirelp much, because for- of participationor reificationis by " not iust not likely to correct its own shortcomings: iust anothermemo' anothermeeting..'. dualitY A fundamental The duality of participation and reification will appear again is a funrrndagainasI developmy argumentin this book' This duality their of aspect the constitutionof communitiesof practice,of tlame"ntal of amongpractices' the identities cvolutionover time, of the relations in which communities and of the broader organizations of participants, exist. practice of Inthiscontext'asltriedtoemphasizewiththediagramofFigure reifiI . I , it is important nnt to interpretthe duality of participationand by end this chapter expandI cationin teims of a simpleopposition. will in a hurry and feel that enoughhasbeensaid point. Ifyou ing this "i. you may want to skip the fine points I am making here and rrlrcady, and the incliBut if you havethe patience nloveon to the next chapter. the natureof the relation nrltion,then readingon will help clarifyboth what I mean and,more Senerally' bclu'ccnplrticillitrionrrndreification
Part I: Practtce
by a duality as opposedto a dichotomy. The latter clarification will be useful since I will introduce a number of dualities in the coming chapters.Indeed, thinking in terms of complex dualities rather than mere dichotomiesis fundamentalto the conceptualframework of this book. As suggested Figure 1.1,a duality is a singleconceptual by unit that is formed by two inseparable mutually constitutiveelementswhose and inherent tension and complementaritygive the concept richnessand dynamism.In what follows, I will clarify this idea by contrastingthe duality of participationand reificationwith related)more traditional di* chotomiesof opposites for example,tacit versusexplicit, formal versus informal, individual versus collective,private versus public, consciousversusunconscious, peopleversusthings.I will do so via a list or in of statements, eachcasesayingboth what the duality of participation and reificationis and what it is not. ) Participationand reifcation are a duality, nlt lpposites. Participationand reification are not defined merely by opposition to each other. The tacit is that which is not made explicit; the informal that which is not formalized; the unconscious that which is not conscious. But participationis not merely what is not reified. Both participation and reificationare processes definedeachin their own terms. As a result, they are not mutually exclusive.On the contrary, they take placetogether;they are two constituents intrinsic to the processof negotiation of meaning,and their complementarityreflectsthe inherent duality of this process. Participationand reificationboth require and enableeachother. On the one hand, it takesour participationto produce,interpret, and use reification;so there is no reificationwithout participation.On the other hand, our participationrequires interaction and thus generates shortmeaningsthat reflect our enterprises and our takes cuts to coordinated on the world; so there is no participationwithout reification. ) Participationand reificationa.retno d,imensions interact;they that do not definee spectrum. is One way to avoid thinking starklyin terms of opposites to considera spectrum. Knowledge can be more or less explicit; learning can be more or less formal; an impressioncan be more or less conscious;a meaning can be more or less individual. While a continuum does allow more nuanced distinctions, is still a relationbetweenopposites. it
Moving to one side implies leavingthe other. More of one implies less of the other. With an interacting duality, by contrast,both elementsare always involved, and both can take different forms and degrees. particular, In there can be both intenseparticipationand intensereification.In fact, the creativegenius of great scientistsand artists can be construedas stemmingfrom their ability to bring the two together:on rhe one hand, an intense involvement with the reificative formalismsof their discipline; and on the other, a deepparticipativeintuition of what thoseformalismsare about. This is true of a scientistlike Albert Einstein. who insistedon the importanceof exploringideasintuitively aswell asbeing able to give them mathematicalexpression. is as true of a musician It like Johann Sebastian Bach, who combined intricate forms of musical structurewith melodic inspiration. Such a perspective pedagogical has implicationsfor teachingcomplex knowledge:an excessive emphasison formalism without corresponding levelsof participation,or converselya neglectof explanations and formal structure,can easilyresult in an experience meaninglessness. of I Participation and refficationimply eachother; they do not substitutefor eachother. Increasingthe level of participation or reification does nor dispense with the other. On the contrary, it will tend to increasethe requirements for the other. Indeed, reificationalwaysrestson participation:what is said,represented, or otherwise brought into focus always assumes history of a participationas a context for its interpretation. In turn, participation itself aroundreificationbecause alwaysinvolvesartialwaysorganizes it facts,words, and conceptsthat allow it to proceed. Explicit knowledgeis thus not freed from the tacit. Formal processes are not freedfrom the informal. In fact, in terms of meaningfulness, the oppositeis more likely. To be understoodmeaningfullyasa representation of a pieceof physicsknowledge,an abstractreificationlike E = mc2 does not obviate a closeconnectionto the physicscommunity but, on the contrary,requiresit. In general,viewed as a reification,a more abstract formulation will require more intense and specificparticipation to remainmeaningful, less. not From such a perspective, is not possibleto make everything exit plicit and thus gct rid of the tacit, or to make everything formal and thus get rid ol'thc infilrmal.It is possible only to change their relation.
Part I: Practrce I Participation and,refficationtransformtheir relation; they d,onot translateinto eachother.
Chapter 1: Meaning
A dichotomy tends to suggestthat there must be a processby which one can move from one to the other by translationinto a different but equivalentstate.We can transformtacit knowledgeinto explicit knowledge or vice versa;we can formalize a learning process;we can share By our thoughts;we can make our emotionsmore conscious. contrast, in the relationsof participationand reification is never neua change for tral; it alwaystransformsthe possibilities negotiatingmeaning. . Participationis neversimply the realizationof a descriptionor a prescription. Participatingin an activity that has been describedis not iust translatingthe description into embodied experience,but renegotiatingits meaningin a new context. . Reificationis not a mere articulationof somethingthat alreadyexists. Writing down a statementof values,expressingan idea, painting a picture, recounting an event, articulating an emotion, or building a to but in fact tool is not merely giving expression existingmeanings, creatingthe conditionsfor new meanings. as As a consequence, such processes making something explicit, forthey are indeed transmalizing,or sharingare not merely translations; formations- the production of a new context of both participationand reification, in which the relationsbetween the tacit and the explicit, the formal and the informal, the individual and the collective,are to be renegotiated. an I Participation and refficationd,escribe interplay; they are not ory classificat categories. There is a fundamentaldifferencebetweenusing a distinction to clasthoughts,knowledge,learning) as one pole sify things (e.9.,meanings, or the other and using a distinctionto describean inherent interplay. In a duality, what is of interest is understandingthe interplay, not The duality of participationand reification is not a classiclassifying. ficatory scheme.It does not classifymeanings,thoughts, knowledge, or learning as tacit or explicit, formal or informal, consciousor unindividual or collective.Rather, it providesa framework to conscious, the analyze variouswaysin which they are alwaysboth at once. Traditional dichotomiesare useful distinctionswhen they are used that has not receivedenoughattento highlight an aspectof a process like meaning,knowing,or lcarning, tion. But when it comesto issues
dichotomies cannotprovide cleanclassificatory categories because they focuson surfacefeatures rather than on fundamentalprocesses. inFor stance, contrastbetweenexplicit and tacit knowledgeis quite useful the because is important to recognizethe existence aspects knowlit of of edgethat we cannoteasilyarticulate;hence,being ableto tellandbeing able to do arenot equivalent. Classifyingknowledgeas explicit or tacit runs inro difficulties,however,because both aspects alwayspresentto somedegree.For exare ample, peoplewho know how to ride a bicycle often cannot articulate how they keep their balance. particular,they cannotsay which way In they steer in order to avoid falling, even though they do it right.roTo classifyriding a bicycle as tacit knowledgeis tricky because peopleare not exactlyspeechless aboutthe process. They cantell you, for instance, that you must pedaland steer,hold the bar, and not wiggle too much or sit backwardunlessyou're a pro. Classifyingknowledgethen becomes a matter of deciding what counrsas explicit, and that dependson rhe enterprisewe are involved in. Walking is a very embodiedknowledge,but if someonetells me ro walk, I can do it. Requiring only this yields a good enoughrelation between the explicit and the tacit for cerrain purposes,though probably not good enoughfor an orthopedistwho needsto know which muscles I use to keepmy balanceand move my legs- but that is a different enterprise altogether.Conversely,I'd bet that physicists,whose knowledge many of us would consider very explicit, would have as hard a time articulatingexactlyhow they makesense concepts of suchas force and space-timeas we have explaininghow we ride a bicycle.When it comesto meaningfulknowing in the context of any enterprise,the explicit must alwaysstop somewhere. is alwayspossibleto find aspecs It that are not explicit, and this is exactly what a duality of participation and reificationwould predict: we produce preciselythe reification we need in order to proceedwith the practicesin which we parricipate. The duality of participationand reificationis more fundamentalthan our ability to put things in words,createformalisms,articulateour feelings,or shareour thoughts.It is thereforeimportant not to reduceparticipation and reificationto any of the dichotomiesI havementioned. . For instance, participationis not just tacit, informal, or unconscious, because participationincludesactionslike havinga conversation, our teachinga formalizedcurriculum, or reflectingon our motives. . Reificationis not just explicit, because there are many ways of reifying thrrttrc not simply putting things into words.A painting,for
Part I: Practice
Chapter I: Meaning
instance, reifiesa perceptionof the world, an understanding. is an It expression that makesa statementand focuses our attention in specific ways.But it is difficult to saywhether this expression explicit is or tacit. Similarly, building a tool or systematically ignoring people to let them know they are outsidersare actsofreification that cannot easilybe classified tacit or explicit. as . Neither participationnor reificationcan be easilythought of in terms of contrastsof individual versuscollective,or private versuspublic. Participationis clearlya socialprocess, it is alsoa personalexpebut rience. Reificationallows us to coordinateour actionsand is therefore of a collectivecharacter,but it shapesour own perceptionsof the world and ourselves. . Reificationcan be public to the extent thar it producestangible objects, but participationcan alsobe public ro the extent rhat our actions are observable. Moreover,the effectsof both on our experience are not so visible or easilyclassified public or private. as Finally, the duality of participationand reificationis not just a distinction betweenpeople and things. It is true that participationis something we do as persons,and reificationhas to do with objects.But the duality of participationand reificationsuggests preciselythat, in rerms of meaning, people and things cannot be defined independently of eachother. . On the one hand, we experience the world as we make it amenable to our practices.I rememberbeing awed by the complex systemof distinctions and nuancesthat wine tasters have developedto describewhat to most peopleis merely a better or worseglassof wine. . On the other hand, our senseof ourselves includesthe objectswith which we identify because they furnish our practices. Mastering the wine-tastingvocabularyand being able to appreciate and discussall the nuances a good wine canbecomea sourceof distinction,pride, of and identity. What it meansto be a personand what it meansto be a thing both involve an interplay of participationand reification.From this perspective, peopleand things do not haveto be positedasa point ofdeparture. They need not be assumedas given to start with. It is engagement in socialpracticethat provides the baseline.Through the negotiationof meaning,it is the interplay of participationand reificationthat makes peopleand things what they are.
In this interplay, our experienceand our world shape each other through a reciprocalrelation that goesto the very essence who we of are. The world as we shapeit, and our experience the world shapes as it, are like the mountain and the river. They shapeeachother, but they havetheir own shape.They are reflectionsofeach other, but they have their own existence, their own realms.They fit around each other, in but they remain distinct from eachother. They cannotbe transformed into each other, yet they transform each other. The river only carves and the mountain only guides,yet in their interaction,the carving becomesthe guiding and the guiding becomesthe carving.
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