Engestrom’s perspective

As an interesting follow on Wenger’s talk, Englestrom takes a different perspective, but offers interesting insights into aspects of the same phenomena Wenger was talking about. He applies a biological metaphor through considering the notion of mycorrhizae as one means of understanding complex modern working practices - nodal, interconnected, mainly unseen, distributed… More notes taken during the session below…

  • Activity and organisations – expansive learning is having a profound effect on how we think about learning and the relationship between organisations and practice
  • Interesting to compare and contrast two approaches to learning in professional contexts
  • From CoP to wildfire activities and mycorrhizae (underneath mushrooms!!!!)
  • Wenger looked at issues of practice and learning from perspective of identity of practitioners or professional and how individuals as professional practitioners construct their identities in this complex world
  • Engestrom takes opposite view – looks at objects and what drives us when we learn  and conduct our professional practices.
  • These views are not in conflict Engestrom argues
  • Lave and Wenger 1991. A number of central aspects to the original defintion: CoP bounded local entity which has clear boundaries and membership criteria. CoP has a single centre of supreme skill and authority typically embodied in the master. CoP characterised mainly by centripetal movement from the periphery to the centre, from novice to master from marginal to fully legitimate participation, opposite movement also mentioned questioning, moving out mentioned, but not explored. Aligns with apprentice notion, craft communities, arguably a historical location.
  • The problem – CoP is very ahistorical notion, represented as a universal phenomena
  • Different historical periods and types of learning
  • Historicizing community – from gemeinschaft to collaborative community – Adler and Heckscher, 2006 Distinguish between three types of historical community 1) strong boundaries, authority, tradition – “gemeinschaft”, 2. Market based, rule based – “gesellschaft” 3. Emerging collaborative community. See a shift or emergence of type three communities – ie boundaries of solidary grops must be far less fixed and far more capable of being bridged and merged. Must accommdate high level of technical division of labour and diversity of knowledge and skills, authority based on knowledge and expertise and not status, must bring values into the realm of public discussion.
  • Want to find a description that goes beyond strong centralised communities of mass production corporations. Geog distribution in the communities which are lateral rather than horizontal and this requires different forms of coordination.
  • Craft – to mass production – social production matrix against nature of object, locus of agency, coordinating mechanism, learning movement



    Nature of object

    Locus of agency

    Coordinating mechanism

    Learning movement


    Personal object

    Individual actor

    Identification and subordination

    Periphedal participation gradual transition towards the centre

    Mass production

    Problematic object


    Process management

    Focal involvement, linear and vertical improvement

    Social production

    Runaway object

    (cf Giddens runaway world)

    Knots in mycorrhizae

    Negotiation and peer review

    Expansive swarming engagement, multi-directional pulsation


    • For example craft/nature of object = personal object cf. Craft/learning movement = peripheral participation gradual transition towards the centre. Social production/nature of object = runaway object cf. social production/earning movement = expansive swarming engagement, multi-directional pulsation
    • Radical change in our understanding of what is work and business and what it means – concept of a career is a notion from the mass production phase!!
    • Book – just for fun (Linus Torvalds) – doing things just because you like them
    • In mass production was all about controlling and standardisation, now we are in a runaway world – look at development of Linux and open source movement more generally – has been a dramatic success. Has been successful in unexpected ways – hence a runaway object (is not controlled)
    • Other runaway objects – diabetes type 2 or global warming – not such nice examples
    • In world of work and organisations we need to pay attention to these kinds of objects, which have tremendous capacity to surprise us in both positive and negative ways, need to think of how we live with them, we can no longer control [Interesting compares with recent debates on loosely coupled systems vs. VLEs]
    • Who and where are the people involved with this? Mycorrhizae is a good metaphor – growths which are largely invisble, can be huge, each node has a life of its own, but its connected also to a large network. Very hard to kill, but are vulnerable too, can go dormant for a long time, and then become active again.
    • Actors come together for a particular purpose and then disperse again – pulsation of coming together and pulsating together in different combinations -= theorised as ‘swarming’, but difficult to capture and represent. Engagement and disengagement, modelling using tools of AI – a lot of work on this at the moment.
    • Coordinating mechanisms need to negotiation and peer review – they are not process control that we are used to as a basis for mass production.
    • What wildcat activities are not – not jut wikinomics or very large number of people engaged in something, not just social network spaces, not just the internet, they are not just open source.
    • They might be: organisations seeking models that enable continuous engaged self-renewal, innovation and expansion, yet are sustainable and don’t burn out their own energy. There are activities that have such qualities – for example skateboarding, birding (bird watching), and disaster relief of the red cross. Cf. period of rapid and unsustainable economy growth that we are living through.
    • These activities show remarkable sustainability and expansion in spite of severe adversities and constraints. Little money, need a lot of time, high risk of failure etc. Yet these activities are constantly learning to transcend the constraints and overcome the adversities.
    • These activities are paradoxical – pop up and then appear to disappear, longevity and persist over time, dispersed and distributed, yet well coordinated and ware of the whole in each node, offer little publicly recognizable rewards but are extremely highly motivating.
    • Importance characterisation
      • Strong object and use value orientation – resistance to thorough commercialisation – gift economy, peer to peer or social production – its not about rewards
      • Quick adoption and creative use of up to date information and communication technologies but little emphasis and dependency on them – no closed world of virtuality
    • Theoretical perspectives  -Runaway objects
    • There is no activity without an object (Leont’ev), object gives durable direction and purpose to activity it is the true motive of activity not reducible to conscious goals, it’s a moving target, never fully accomplished, multi-faceted – a mosaic of multiple interpretations, voices and positioning, objects resist and kick back
    • Runaway objects diabetes, global warming etc
    • Who’s object is global warming? This looks like an object without activity? Of course not  the very concept would not exist if researchers had not worked on it and identified the problem which activities takes responsibility for such a huge object
    • Use of AT common representation of two interconnected activity systems
    • Difficult to deal with large scale runaway objects – who should do what?
    • Can we deliberately construct benign runaway objects?
    • The object includes and involves constant feedback – for example Linux has a peer review approach to developments (Lee and Cole, 2003, p 639)
    • What would be a wild cat community??
    • Three levels – objects, movement and community that we need to research and understand more


    2 Responses to “Engestrom’s perspective”

    1. compare medigap plans Says:

      Hmm Well I was just searching on yahoo and just came across your site, in general I just only visit blogs and retrieve my needed info but this time the useful information that you posted in this post urged me to post here and appreciate your diligent work. I just bookmarked your site. Thank you again.

    2. Gráinne Says:

      great! glad you found it useful!

    Leave a Reply