On Developing Community

Of the work in my field what has been most influential to me most recently, are the calls to create communities of practice within our centers. As you might imagine, this idea resonates deeply with me. Drawing on the work of sociologists Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave, theorists have argued promoting communities of practice in the center encourages the consultants to learn from one another, and to develop knowledge together. I see this work as a natural foundation for the argument I make to use hospitality as a frame for the work of the center because building communities of practice in the center provides the consultant a space from which to welcome the writer.

Finding ways to building community among the consultants has been at the core of nearly every change I’ve made in my tenure as the coordinator of this center. For the most part, I think those changes have worked well in this regard. The consultants appear at ease in the center, share their knowledge with each other, and have the confidence to share that knowledge through their consultations with writers, and the resources they create.

Since returning from the conference I attended last week, I’ve been trying to process what made it such a positive experience for me. As I think I mentioned before, this is the second time I’ve attended this conference. The first time it was also a positive experience, but not in the same way as last week.  Yesterday, when asked to describe my experience, without thinking I labeled it “rejuvenating.” Although I hadn’t thought of the term before, rejuvenated was exactly how I felt, and throughout the rest of the day I attempted to figure out why.

In a ridiculous turn of events, despite living only 70 miles apart Nimueh, Dr. Phoenix, and I apparently have to fly across the country to see each other. We were also able to see our good friend, the new Dr. Rhett Minerva, who just got a job at the Little College in the Big Woods.  Part of the rejuvenation had to do with seeing old friends, but there was also something more. At the end of the day yesterday, as I sat in my office considering my long term goals for the program, I started to develop an idea of from where that sense of rejuvenation came. Since one of my primary goals with this program is to build a community, as I sat considering how to do that, I realized the sense of rejuvenation this conference gave me stemmed from the fact that finally felt a part of a community.

The first time I attended this conference it was my first year on this job, and, really, the first time I delved into become a part of the larger community of this field.  This time, I’d been working in the field for two and half years, writing about the field in my dissertation, and trying to develop my program. This time I didn’t feel like an outsider looking into this field.  I felt like someone with experience who had (for lack of better phrasing) earned the right to speak back to the community.  Also, as much as I spent the majority of time with my friends, we all made new friends within the community.  We discovered, as Dr. Phoenix so nicely put it, more of “our people.

Developing this sense of larger community was so important and rejuvenating to me, I realized, because within my own program I lack that sense of community I attempt to cultivate for the consultants in the program. The question for me, I guess, is if I do have a sense of community in the larger field, do I need to also develop that where I am?  Short term, I think I am just fine where I am, and that I feel like I have enough of a sense of community regionally to make my lack of office community less of a factor than it could be.  Long term, however, I think I’ve finally articulated the element that most makes me feel like this is not the long term position for me.

My paper at this conference articulated how important context is to our experience   Eventually, I think the lack of community I feel in my present context will drive me to search out a new position.

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