Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger

Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation

New York: Cambridge University Press. 1991.

The definition

Learning viewed as situated activity has as its central defining characteristic a process that we call legitimate peripheral participation. By this we mean to draw attention to the point that learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners and that the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move toward full participation in the sociocultural practices of a community. "Legitimate peripheral participation" provides a way to speak about the relations between newcomers and old-timers, and about activities, identities, artifacts, and communities of knowledge and practice. It concerns the process by which newcomers become part of a community of practice. A person's intentions to learn are engaged and the meaning of learning is configured through the process of becoming a full participant in a sociocultural practice. This social process includes, indeed it subsumes, the learning of knowledgeable skills. (p. 29)

The core correlate of the definition: community as site of hegemony that truncates possibilities. Culture, politics, consequences; thus my suggestion that we write about "polities of practice"

Hegemony over resources for learning and alienation from full participation are inherent in the shaping of the legitimacy and peripherality of participation in its historical realizations. It would be useful to understand better how these relations generate characteristically interstitial communities of practice and truncate possibilities for identities of mastery. (p. 42)

The relation of this discussion to Vygotsky on the "zone of proximal development"

Internalization is even central to some work on learning explicitly concerned with its social character, for instance in the work of Vygotsky. We are aware that Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development has received vastly differing interpretations, under which the concept of internalization plays different roles. These interpretations can be roughly classified into three categories. First, the zone of proximal development is often characterized as the distance between problem-solving abilities exhibited by a learner working alone and that learner's problem-solving abilities when assisted by or collaborating with more-experienced people. This "scaffolding" interpretation has inspired pedagogical approaches that explictly provide support for the initial performance of tasks to be later performed without assistance (Greenfield 1984; Wood, Bruner, and Ross 1976; for critiques of this position, see Engestrfim 1987, and Griffin and Cole 1984). Second, a "cultural" interpretation construes the zone of proximal development as the distance between the cultural knowledge provided by the sociohistorical context - usually made accessible through instruction - and the everyday experience of individuals (Davydov and Markova 1983). Hedegaard (1988) calls this the distance between understood knowledge, as provided by instruction, and active knowledge, as owned by individuals. This interpretation is based on Vygotsky's distinction between scientific and everyday concepts, and on his argument that a mature concept is achieved when the scientific and everyday versions have merged. In these two classes of interpretation of the concept of the zone of proximal development, the social character of learning mostly consists in a small "aura" of socialness that provides input for the process of internalization viewed as individualistic acquisition of the cultural given. There is no account of the place of learning in the broadercontext of the structure of the social world (Fajans and Turner in preparation).

Contemporary developments in the traditions of Soviet psychology, in which Vygotsky's work figures prominently, include activity theory (Bakhurst 1988; Engestrfim 1987; Wertsch 1981, 1985) and critical psychology (Holzkamp 1983, 1987; Dreier in press; see also Garner 1986). In the context of these recent developments, a third type of interpretation of the zone of proximal development takes a "collectivist," or "societal" perspective. Engestrfim defines the zone of proximal development as the "distance between the everyday actions of individuals and the historically new form of the societal activity that can be collectively generated as a solution to the double bind potentially embedded in . . . everyday actions" (Engestrfim 1987: 174). Under such societal interpretations of the concept of the zone of proximal development researchers tend to concentrate on processes of social transformation. They share our interest in extending the study of learning beyond the context of pedagogical structuring, including the structure of the social world in the analysis, and taking into account in a central way the conflictual nature of social practice. We place more emphasis on connecting issues of sociocultural transformation with the changing relations between newcomers and old-timers in the context of a changing shared practice. (p. 48-49)

To begin with, newcomers' legitimate peripherality provides them with more than an "observational" lookout post: It crucially involves participation as a way of learning - of both absorbing and being absorbed in - the "culture of practice. " An extended period of legitimate peripherality provides learners with opportunities to make the culture of practice theirs. From a broadly peripheral perspective, apprentices gradually assemble a general idea of what constitutes the practice of the community. This uneven sketch of the enterprise (available if there is legitimate access) might include who is involved; what they do; what everyday life is like; how masters talk, walk, work, and generally conduct their lives; how people who are not part of the community of practice interact with it; what other learners are doing; and what learners need to learn to become full practitioners. It includes an increasing understanding of how, when, and about what old-timers collaborate, collude, and collide, and what they enjoy, dislike, respect, and admire. In particular, it offers exemplars (which are grounds and motivation for learning activity), including masters, finished products, and more advanced apprentices in the process of becoming full practitioners. (p. 95)

Thursday, June 13, 2002