Social Theory of Learning

Social Theory of Learning, from Communities of Practice

by Etienne Wenger


Theories of social structure: cultural systems, discourses, history; the most extreme deny agency to individuals


Theories of situated experience: esperience, action, interaction of the moment, local construction of individual; the most extreme ignore structure writ large

Learning “takes place through our engagement in actions and interaction, but it embeds this engagement in culture and history. Throught these local actions and interactions, learning reproduces and transforms the social structure in which it takes place.


Theories of social structure:  “address production and reproduction of specific ways of engaging with the world.  They’re concerned with everyday activity and real-life settings, BUT with an emphasis on SOCIAL SYSTEMS of shared resources by which groups organize, and coordinate their activities, mutual relationships, and interpretation of the world.


Theories of identity:  “are concerned with the social formation of the person, the cultural interpretation of the body, and the creation and the use of markers of membership such as rites of passage and social categories. They address issues of gender, class, ethnicity, age, and other forms of categorization, association, and differentiation in an attempt to understand the person as formed through complex relations of mutual constitution between individuals and groups.”

Learning “is the vehicle for the evolution of practices and the includion of newcomers while also (and through the same process) the vehicle for the development and transformation of identities” (p.13)


Theories of collectivity [between social structure (vertical) and practice (horizontal)]: “adress the formation of social configuration of various types, from the local (families, communities, groups, networks) to the global (states, social classes, associations, social movements, organizations). They also seek to describe mechanisms of social cohesion by which these configurations are produced, sustained, and reproduced over time (solidarity, commitments, common interests, affinity).

Theories of subjectivity [between identity and situated experience)


L2 Soc in an bilingual chat room: Lam 2004

Lam 2004 , see also Lam 2006 and Koutzogianis et al 2004


Wan Shun Eva Lam

Northwestern University


This paper considers how global practices of English on the Internet intersect with local practices of English in the territorial or national sphere in constructing the language experiences of immigrant learners. Using a multi-contextual approach to language socialization, this paper examines the social and discursive practices in a Chinese/English bilingual chat room and how this Internet chat room provides an additional context of language socialization for two teenage Chinese immigrants in the US. Analysis of discourse, interview, and observational data reveals that a mixed-code variety of English is adopted and developed among the focal youth and their peers around the globe to construct their relationships as bilingual speakers of English and Cantonese. This language variety served to create a collective ethnic identity for these young people and allowed the girls to assume a new identity in speaking English that doesn’t follow the social categories of English-speaking Americans versus Cantonese-speaking Chinese in their local American context. This paper makes the case for studying how people navigate across contexts of socialization in the locality of the nation-state and the virtual environments of the Internet to articulate new ways of using English.

Netnography: Kozinets, 2002

Kozinets, Robert 2002

The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities


The author develops “netnography” as an online marketing research technique for providing consumer insight. Netnography is ethnography adapted to the study of online communities. As a method, netnography is faster, simpler, and less expensive than traditional ethnography and more naturalistic and unobtrusive than focus groups or interviews. It provides information on the symbolism, meanings, and consumption patterns of online consumer groups. The author provides guidelines that acknowl- edge the online environment, respect the inherent flexibility and open- ness of ethnography, and provide rigor and ethics in the conduct of mar- keting research. As an illustrative example, the author provides a netnography of an online coffee newsgroup and discusses its marketing implications.

Transmediation defined: Altenderfer et al. 2012

Emerging definitions for the concept of transmediation.

This latest version comes from an article in the Journal of Language and Literacy Education, by authors Eliza Altenderfer, Amanda Doerfler, Erika Poblete, Marissa Williamson, & Vivian Yenika-Agbaw from Penn State.

The following excerpt is taken from page 8.

” Transmediation

Transmediation involves a process whereby one’s negotiation with texts is represented in new text forms through other sign systems (Semali, 2002). Semali and Fueyo (2001) note further that it “means responding to cultural texts in a range of sign systems—art, movement, sculpture, dance, music, and so on—as well as in words” (n.p.). These signs become alternative ways of seeing, knowing, and expressing ideas, as is customarily practiced in formal and informal literary/literacy communities (Beach, Appleman, Hynds, & Wilhelm, 2006), enabling students simultaneously to be socially competent readers and to be aware of their surrounding world and its conflicting histories and realities. To Semali (2002), “When students take their understandings from reading a book and consider them in another sign system (or media form) this transmediation experience provides them an alternative perspective and supports them in more complex thinking” (p. 7). Transmediation in this regard encourages multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 1999; New London Group, 1996), a concept we interpret in this article as one’s ability to read/write/think/challenge and create/reconstruct meanings in a variety of text forms. Furthermore, “Multiliteracies,” the New London Group (1996) posits, “creates a different kind of pedagogy, one in which language and other modes of meaning are dynamic representational resources, constantly being remade by their users as they work to achieve their various cultural purposes” (p. 64). This model of literacy provides opportunities for democracy, especially when readers read with “sociological imaginations,” which allow them to “recognize that all texts are
the products of processes of production in which individuals and groups make specific decisions regarding every symbol, grammar, and design, which influence how we, and our students might see ourselves and the world differently” (Shannon, 2011, p. 33). “

The authors request that you please cite this article as:

Altenderfer, E., Doerfler, A., Poblete, E., Williamson, M., & YenikaAgbaw, V. (2012). Traditional Tales and Literacy: Pre-service Teachers’ Transmediation of “Hansel and Gretel.” Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 8(1), 38-48. Available at ttp://

Click here for article.

Transmediation: Playing with symbols

Transmediation refers to the translation of symbols from one form of media into another.

Transmediation references a multidisciplinary approach to acquire knowledge: it points to a multimodal view of a particular concept or idea as perceived through different filters, or media, to arrive at a conclusion of deeper understanding. Transmediation is defined as the recasting or translating of meaning from one medium into another; from one sign system into another (Siegel, 1995).

Click here for article.