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Blog as a nexus of multimembership and accidental brokering

This is a piece from the current version of final chapter of my dissertation where I discuss blogging across various boundaries.  It draws heavily on the conceptual categories from the work of Etienne Wenger on communities of practice (Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity, 1998) and on the discussion with CPsquare members about those.


While to an extend weblogs do represent bloggers behind them and are often perceived as their online identities, studies presented in my dissertation also indicate that blogging involves many challenges of dealing with different audiences that a weblog serves (the results of blog networking study provide examples of both). Blogging in a context of knowledge work requires balancing interests of self and others, peers and customers, close friends and occasional lurkers, or those of people coming from different disciplinary backgrounds. From this perspective I find useful the discussion of identity in relation to participation in different communities of practice by Etienne Wenger (1998, p.159):

Our various forms of participation delineate pieces of a puzzle we put together rather than sharp boundaries between disconnected parts of ourselves. An identity is thus more than just a single trajectory; instead, it should be viewed as a nexus of multimemberhsip. As such a nexus, identity is not a unity but neither is it simply fragmented.

  • On the one hand, we engage in different practices in each of the communities of practice to which we belong. We often behave rather differently in each of them, construct different aspects of ourselves, and gain different perspectives.
  • On the other hand, considering a person as having multiple identities would miss all the subtle ways in which our various forms of participation, no matter how distinct, can interact, influence each other, and require coordination.

The notion of nexus adds multiplicity to the notion of trajectory. A nexus does not merge the specific trajectories we form in out various communities of practice into one; but neither does it decompose our identity into distinct trajectories in each community. In a nexus, multiple trajectories become part of each other, whether they clash or reinforce each other. They are, at the same time, one and multiple.

When one belongs to different social worlds, being a one person requires what Wenger discusses as reconciliation, the process of constructing an identity that can integrate “different meanings and forms of participation into one nexus” (p.160).

Although usually participation in different social worlds is somewhat separated in time and space (e.g. being a colleague at work and a parent at home, while still maintaining a single identity of a working parent), blogging brings it into a single space and sometimes even into a single moment, when a blogpost is written to capture one’s experiences between those worlds (for example). In this case different forms of participation collapse creating a living resolution of a boundary. In addition, the work of reconciliation, usually very personal and invisible (p.161), leaves publicly visible traces when bloggers use their weblogs in different contexts.

Wenger discusses participative connection across community boundaries as brokering, which is defined as “use of multimembership to transfer some elements of one practice into another” (p.109):

The job of brokering is complex. It involves processes of translation, coordination, and alignment between perspectives. It requires enough legitimacy to influence the development of a practice, mobilize attention, and address conflicting interests. It also requires the ability to link practices by facilitating transactions between them, and to cause learning by introducing into a practice elements of another. Toward this end brokering is provides a participative connection – not because reification is not involved, but because what brokers press into service to connect practices is their experience of multimembership and the possibilities for negotiation inherent in practice.

While brokering is not necessarily an intentional activity of a blogger, the co-existence and reconciliation of different perspectives in a singe weblog might results in accidental brokering. In this case elements of practices are transferred across boundaries as bloggers address conflicting interests and translate between different perspectives through their writing – not because they planned to do so but since this is what being able to write in a single weblog requires – providing their readers with an opportunity to “visit” practices different from their own.

In this case weblog provides a window onto practice, supporting learning trough legitimate peripheral participation as it allows “to look through it onto as much actual practice as it can reveal, to see to increasingly greater depths, and to collaborate in exploration” (Brown&Duguid, 1992, for more see Legitimised theft: distributed apprenticeship in weblog networks). Access to practices of others in this way requires time and effort of picking up contextual cues “between the lines” and establishing relations needed for joint exploration. However, weblogs also provide an alternative way to peek into other worlds that does not necessarily requires the effort of engaging in person, but rather allows connecting through artefacts.

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