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)