Scratching beneath the surface of communities of (mal)practice

Jon Pemberton, Sharon Mavin, Brenda Stalker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - This paper seeks to surface less positive aspects of communities of practice (CoPs), regardless of emergent or organisationally managed, grounded in political-power interactions. Examples are provided from the authors' experiences of a research-based CoP within UK higher education. Design/methodology/approach - The paperis primarily theoretical with empirical examples drawn from a descriptive CoP case study. Findings - The paper discusses the following themes: the impact of timing on CoP development; the impact of CoP leaders and managers in "managed" CoPs; the power-political interrelationship between emergent CoPs and formal organisation; the impact of dominant actors with position power; emotional containment and emotion work within CoPs; power implications of novices and masters and the implications when CoP practices diverge from organisational practices. It finds that to ignore such issues of power within CoPs is to limit the knowledge creation process. Research limitations/implications - Further empirical research is necessary to investigate micro and macro power-political issues of CoPs. In particular, emotional containment and emotion work of CoP members and the impact of this on knowledge creation is worthy of future research. Practical implications - The paper has significant implications for CoPs in practice as the quest for pragmatic mechanisms to develop individual and organisational learning and knowledge creation for competitive advantage. Originality/value - While there is an implicit assumption that CoPs are "good" and benefit individuals and organisations, this paper highlights less positive power-political issues relating to CoPs which are under researched in the extant literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-73
JournalLearning Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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