Parallel journeys: An auto-ethnographic account of how a change of place impacts on our conceptions of community, identity and practice

Lucas, Mike (2012). Parallel journeys: An auto-ethnographic account of how a change of place impacts on our conceptions of community, identity and practice. In: 30th Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism 2012, 11-14 Jul 2012, Barcelona.


This paper acts as a sister piece to my paper (Lucas 2012a) detailing some of the key outcomes of an ethnographic study I undertook between 2009 and 2011. The study itself examined the practices of a small village community in contributing to a regional, multi- site folk-culture festival from my role as a volunteer “observant practitioner” (Moeran, 2009). My attempts to develop an auto-ethnographic narrative as part of the study data have caused me to reflect more deeply on my relationship to this newly adopted place-community and its impact on my identity and practice as an academic. The aim of this paper is to share my reflections on this theme.

In summer 2008, my wife and I bought a family holiday home by a lake in central Sweden. It lies in a village at the centre of an idyllic tract of forest straddling the border between two Swedish administrative regions. Thanks to my wife’s enthusiasm for visiting the place and our willingness to participate in village activities when we visit, particular those related to the organisation of the local summer festival, the permanent residents probably see us more than most of the other tourist home owners. Hence we seem to have attained a rather strange, half-way status, oddly closer to the community despite the geographical and cultural distances, than the rather peripheral position we hold in the community of our home village in the UK. This has subsequently struck me as somehow analogous to the state of my professional identity as I will endeavour to explain.

During 2004-9 I became involved in the activities of a UK government-funded Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) for Practice-Based Professional Learning project based at my own University. It allowed me to meet with colleagues, including a number of eminent scholars in the field of practice based learning to discuss, in workshop settings, our differing perspectives on the relationship between learning and practice. Etienne Wenger was a visiting fellow of the Centre and his contributions to the discussions on social learning and communities of practice captured my imagination. Almost without me realising it, I began to reflect on which practitioner community I belonged to. This proved a more difficult question than I first understood, since as I thought about it more deeply, I realised that although I had travelled through a number of practitioner communities at various times in my career in education, I had never really ‘settled’ in one as such. Wenger’s notion of community began to seem to me a rather static metaphor which evokes ‘settlement’ – the development of a stable (professional) identity within a peer practitioner community. This also seemed at odds with my own personal journey of learning/practice, which involved lengthy periods of transience between different communities of education professionals and business academics, and of a temporary, all-too fragile lodging within them. It seemed I was in a perennial state of what Wenger has termed ‘peripheral participation’ in several communities at any one time.

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