Putting communities of practice in their place
Keywords:Community of Practice, Social Networks, Institutions, Imagined Communities
The study of language, gender, and sexuality has enthusiastically embraced the concept community of practice. Now the field needs to take the concept further in two directions: (1) The comparative direction examines different but similar kinds of communities of practice to explore generalizations about how practice contributes to the linguistic construction of gender and sexuality; (2) The relational direction locates communities of practice in relation to a world beyond – to other communities of practice, to social networks, to institutions (e.g. schools, churches, prisons), and to more global imagined communities (e.g. nations, women). For each direction, we mention exemplary studies, emphasizing that the construct community of practice does not offer new analytic units or replace other concepts, but provides fresh perspectives on familiar social units and enriches analyses drawing on other analytic concepts. Only an interdisciplinary research community where researchers connect their work can put communities of practice in their proper place.