21st century will be the century of identity

There was a lot in Etienne’s talk to the Lancaster University teaching and learning forum today. The title was ‘Learning in and across the Landscape of Practice’ in which Etienne talked about the multitude of communities of practice which we all come into contact with – a landscape of communities – and how the world is full of boundaries (created by histories – any history creates a boundary) around these communities which we need to decide whether to cross, negotiate or circumvent. We need to decide whether we want to be a member of these communities or not. These decisions affect our personal identity – how we perceive this identity and how this identity is perceived by others.

Learning, meaning, community and identity all work together. Identity is a filter to decide whether to invest in a community or not.  Learning is a claim to competence, but the paradox of learning is that it gives you power, but that power can also limit your learning. There’s a cost to learning and to power.

The big question for the 21st century is – How do you manage your identity in a world which is so complex and in which there are so many mountains to climb – in which there are too many places to invest in who you want to be? In the past a person’s identity was closely linked to the identity of a community – so, for example  a person living in a small village a hundred years ago would have an identity which could be easily linked to the small community. But today this parallel link between community and identity has broken down. Identity is no longer linked to a particular community, but to a multitude of communities and the burden of identity is shifting more and more onto the shoulders of the person. So the 21st century will be the century of identity and the challenge for individuals (Etienne prefers to talk about people/persons than individuals) and communities is how to engage with and enable this identity to be realised.

2 thoughts on “21st century will be the century of identity

  1. Heli Nurmi April 7, 2011 / 7:46 am

    I appreciate Wenger’s presentation for many reasons. He knows what is the domain of his theory: It is social learning and you have to understand the limits/borders when you need other concepts to describe learning.

    I like his language because it is so human. He tells about real people living in this world, I can recognize myself there. We live in communities of practice which can be seen embedded in a landscape or many landscapes.

    He understand the meaning of expertise and stages needed to understand it. You cannot jump to the peek at once, you need practice.

    And I learned a new way to speak about learner autonomy: it is self-governed partnership which fosters our understanding

    Wenger loves to interact, he wants challenges.. it could be seen in his presentation in Lancaster Uni

    So thanks again for giving the link address. I have read his books but seeing the person at work gives always something

  2. jennymackness April 7, 2011 / 8:26 pm

    Hi Heli – thanks for your comment. I was interested in the discussion around Actor Network Theory and that Etienne was able to say that it just didn’t interest him – he didn’t condemn it, but didn’t want to talk about it either. I found the fact that he is so clear about the boundaries around what interests him to be very interesting.

    On the other hand, I know from having heard him talk a few times before and also from having read his book – Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity – that he usually draws attention to two sides of every coin.


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