The Downside of Communities of Practice

COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE, LIKE ALL HUMAN institutions, also have a downside. They can hoard knowledge, limit innovation, and hold others hostage to their expertise. The medieval guilds, for instance, were often fortresses as much as they were stewards of knowledge. They focused as much on the interest of those who benefited from the status quo as on innovation in their practice. When some guilds started to make membership a right that was inherited from father to son, they became almost impossible for others to enter. Communities of practice can also reflect the narrow, unjust prejudices of their society. Most medieval guilds excluded women. Scientific communities in South Africa during the ...

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