Our identities must be viewed as temporal; a melding of our past and present as we move to engage with the future. Wenger tells us these identities are lived, negotiated, social, a learning process; that we create a nexus of identity that involves interplay of our global and local experiences, but ultimately are the experience of “being human.” The more we create multi-memberships in the constellation of communities of practice, we morph our identities; both in the way we identify and the way others identify us. Moving through the stages in life, grade school, high school, college, career, we develop different networks who view us differently, and with whom we may view ourselves differently. When those worlds collide (weddings, milestone birthdays, etc.), we can start to see how each community shapes how we are identified.
These identities are shaped through our membership in a CoP, however we must acknowledge that engagement and participation are not exclusively the same. Overlap may occur, but the learning and identity develop in the engagement in the practices of the CoP. Wenger gives us the example, “claims processors participate in Alinsu, but they do not engage with the company as a whole; they engage with their own community of practice and a few other people” (p. 131). Therefore, we surmise that engagement is specific to a CoP, whereas our participation can have broader contexts. We as students participate in Penn State but we do not engage with all members of the Penn State community, but those in our selected “stars” (i.e. classes, circles of friends, communities, work departments, etc.) inside the constellation of CoPs in the Penn State universe. Our CI597G class is an example of this. Learning is taking place, based on the engagement in our specific domain, that we are not sharing explicitly with those outside. Peripheral participation may occur with whom we have shared our experiences, but they are not truly part of the CoP.
“Every practice is in some sense a form of knowledge, and knowing is participating in that practice” (p. 141). Wenger leads us to believe that through the lens of participation in a community of practice, learning occurs and helps to form our identity. If we view the development of children when learning to think, as Radiolab posits in “Voice in Your Head,” we see that they are participating in the verbal “think alouds” with an adult. Through practice and further engagement with this community of thinkers, they become full members and learn critical thinking skills. Through this venture, they also develop an identity of internal voice. They form this temporal identity that takes the characteristics of members of their community as they learned these skills- parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, etc.
Based on these early learning experiences, we can continue to label identity as temporal, and add to this the idea that we are constantly accumulating memberships—creating our nexus of multi-membership. Our identity becomes a puzzle, and our participation and engagement in each community the puzzle pieces. The puzzle is never fully complete—we grow and develop, join and leave communities, add to knowledge and learn new ways of doing old things. Regardless of how we currently identify ourselves, or how others identify us, the potential to change that identity exists and can follow multiple trajectories over time to shape us as we learn. Wenger tells us that our identities are “a layering of events of participation and reification by which our experiences and social interpretation inform each other” (p. 151).
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