Sunday, July 03, 2005

Theory vs Practice

Last night I was working on one of my incoming conference papers and I happened to read some criticisms to CoPs, namely Gourlay (2003) and Cox (2004), together with some bits and pieces of Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002).

Aside from the specifics, which will be treated in my paper (and probably in some further work), I got a sense of disillusionment beyond belief, more pronounced on the academics side, I must admit.

Basic, what I see here are two "fronts": academics and practitioners. The former too rigid to reformulate an old concept in ways that could be worthy being explored right here right now, the latter too - again - rigid to give some directions from the field on how to implement studies that might go beyond anedoctal stories.

Cox, for example, criticized Wenger et al. because -guess what?- they face the issue from a practitioner perspective... why did he, Cox, insert that book in his review of seminal works if it is so flawed at its basis, then? It's like saying: "The main drawback of the sun is that it emits light" DUH - I didn't know that!

Gourlay criticized the concept of community of practice and the fact Wenger didn't review the literature on teams and groups, entirely missing the fact that CoPs are neither team or groups.

What can I say? I'd like to read a serious critique to CoP theory, rather than a Gee-I-am-so-afraid-I-didn't-think-of-it-myself-that-I-better-destroy-it.

The main bug of the practitioner literature is the fact it doesn't suggest any design whatsoever for possible validation of anedoctes through clear definitions (even at the end of the book, if you just don't like to give them at the beginning GRIN), appropriate studies, intellectually balanced conclusions. Kind of saying "I know I am right because I saw it happening many times, and even if it's not scientific because I could very well have self-selected only the experience my mind would/could understand, I don't care, because all I really care about is my opinion" -- typical of practitioners I must say.

It sounded clear to me, however, that neither part had a clear idea of about a method, neither proposing (practitioners) or formulating one basing on observations (academics). I care to tell the latter, that yes, we are aware that CoP theory, practice and methodology is somehow different from anything in the past, but that's not enough to claim it invalid just because nobody did that before...! And, to academics again, get out of your discipline: there are others that employ other methods (action learning, story-telling, qualitative research, not just numbers).

So what am I so disillusioned about?

William Blake would call them mind-forged manacles, AKA cages produced and built by the mind ON the mind ABOUT the mind, that generate more misunderstandings, separation and pain.

All of this for what? For playing Who's More Right On The Topic.


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