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Affinity spaces vs communities of practice

July 23, 2008

Gee, J. (2005) Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces. In D. Barton and K. Tusting (eds) Beyond Communities of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

James Gee argues in this chapter that the popular notion of ‘communities of practice‘ (Wenger, see also Lloyd 2007) is of little use to understand increasingly common forms of sociality that do not entail group membership or a sense of belonging, e.g. real-time strategy computer games. Instead of communities of practice he proposes the notion of affinity spaces. These are spaces in which people from a variety of backgrounds come together to pursue a common endeavour or goal. Gee’s epitome of an affinity space is the strategy game Age of Mythology (AoM), a plural world in which the common endeavour of playing and transforming the game takes precedence over questions of racial, class or gender identity; a world with various routes to participation, informal leadership and status in which newbies and masters share the same space, and different kinds of knowledge (tacit, intensive, extensive, etc) are fostered and valued. The author suggests that educationalists have much to learn from affinity spaces such as AoM. Thus most school classrooms appear to be hierarchical, lack a common endeavour or opportunities for participation, value one or two hegemonic forms of knowledge, and so on.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2008 10:47 am

    A very interesting model, but I wonder whether a more detailed ethnographic study would reveal not just an ideal world of cooperation and fluid engagement, but also (as always with any human endeavour) conflict, rivalry, social dramas, etc.

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