Changing the Notion of Apprenticeship: Communities of Practice as Masters

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

In Chapter 4 of this book, Lave & Wenger problematize traditional notions of apprenticeship. They comment that it is not solely one master who holds the knowledge which apprentices are to learn, but instead that that knowledge resides collectively in the community of practice through the knowledge, practices, membership, and participation of its members. They state, " In short, the form in which such legitimate access is secured for apprentices depends on the characteristics of the division of labor in the social milieu in which the community of practices is located (p. 92)." Here they comment that access to that knowledge, membership, and participation is dependent upon the members and their relationships within the communities of practice.

They also state,

    "In apprenticeship opportunities for learning are, more often than not, given structure by work practices instead of by strongly asymmetrical master-apprentice relations (p. 93)."


This statement would strengthen my claim that apprenticeship is more to a community of practice than to an individual, but then again, can a concept such a community of practice, a collective noun of individual participants with various skills, knowledge, membership, and participation whose characteristics would deem him/her a master in the eyes of the newcomer, really be a master as a collective body of knowledge and experiences of which it is the apprentice's responsibility to learn?


To add fuel to the fire, they also claim that the master's status makes it impossible for the apprentice to learn from him or her since the apprentice cannot make mistakes it the presence of the master simply because the master is held in esteem in the apprentice's perspective. They state, "Even in the case of tailors, where the relation of apprentice to master is specific and explicit, it is not this relationship but rather the apprentice's relations to other apprentices and even to other masters that organize opportunities to learn; an apprentice's own master is too distant, an object of too much respect, to engage with in awkward attempts at new activity (p. 92)." Consequently they claim that the most important characteristic of a master is his/her legitimacy rather than his/her ability to teach. Such a statement devalues the role of teaching when, in fact, I would think that a master's ability to teach would contribute to his/her legitimacy. Even if the master were a great teacher, the stifling, hierarchical role of master to apprentice impedes teaching. Therefore all that would matter is the master's status. (I'm still not sure that I go along with that thought, but I think that's their point. I still think that teaching should be a characteristic of legitimacy and thereby inseparable from legitimacy.)

Because apprentices are therefore apprenticed to the multiple members of a community of practice, I am wondering if the term master could be applied to the community of practice as a collective unit rather than a single individual.



Such a concept makes me wonder about supervision. On a teacher candidate level, are interns apprenticed to multiple individuals? I think they are. Masters could include mentors, other teachers in the building, PDAs, and other interns. Are they apprenticed rather to multiple communities of practice (COP): the COP in their classroom, the COP in the division or team, the COP in their building, the COP in the PDS? Interns, though, are forced to learn the practice in the daily view of their masters (how would that be different than other master-apprentice relationships like Lave & Wenger are suggesting?). How do they feel about making mistakes? Applying Lave & Wenger's notions of apprenticeship would mean that they learn more from their peers and near-peers who acts as masters because of their old-timer status in the COP than they learn from their "master," but who would that master be if I am not applying the COP as a collective master to this situation? In some ways, I think interns might see their PDAs as a master therefore feeling uneasy and nervous to make mistakes in their practice. From their perspective, do they see PDAs as all-knowing? They seem to learn more from their mentors than their PDAs or at least they seem to be more receptive to learning more from them. Would that indicate that a mentor is seen more as a peer or a near-peer because s/he is working daily with that intern in the classroom rather than a PDA who comes in and out of that community?


On the next level, I wonder about PDAs. Whom do they see as masters? Who holds the "wisdom" or rather the access to the knowledge, skills, participation, and membership of the COP? How do hybrids learn in the COP? In what COPs do they participate - the COP of PDS seems like too broad of an umbrella. Are there, then, such concepts as overarching COPs and therefore mini-COPs to which members belong? Is size a factor in a COP?