Sunday, April 03, 2011

Affinity Space

Gee builds on Lave and Wenger’s (1991) concept of communities of practice, but focuses more on the space, rather than membership. He proposes that the assumption of community is a false one, as people can participate in the same community, yet not feel a sense of belonging or membership. Gee defines affinity spaces as a “place, or set of places where people can affiliate with others, based primarily on shared activities, interests, and goals” (2004, p.73). With online communication becoming more prevalent, Gee believes that this re-conceptualization of communities of practice is needed because “if we start by talking about spaces rather than “communities” we can then go on and ask to what extent the people interacting within a space, or some subgroup of them, do or do not actually form community” (2004, p. 78). Using the term “community” indicates closer social ties, that of belongingness and membership with similar goals, which aren't always present in online communication. It may be easier to delineate the boundaries of the space and then look at how different sorts of people use that space - what they do there and what they get from that space.

To define the space, especially online where there are no physical or geographical boundaries, Gee (2004) suggests content and interaction as a way of defining the space. The things that give the space content and meaning, he titles the generator. The entry into the space he titles the portal which isn't another person, but rather a tool (textbook), activity (small group discussion), or generation of content (posting a lesson plan). For an affinity space, people choose to enter the space because of an interest in the content, not the people occupying the space, which is a significant shift from Lave and Wenger’s (1991) community of practice where the apprenticeship model and relationships are key. In an affinity space, there is little designation of apprentice or master. Gee’s (2004) defining characteristics of an affinity space include:
  1. A common endeavor (interests, goals or practices)
  2. People with varying levels of experience and skill share the same space
  3. Ways of entering the space can also generate content
  4. Content is organized and transformed by the users
  5. Intensive and extensive knowledge is encouraged
  6. Individual and distributed knowledge is encouraged
  7. Dispersed knowledge (not in the space) is highlighted
  8. Tacit knowledge is modeled and articulated
  9. Many forms and routes to participation
  10. Many routes to status
  11. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources
Much of Gee's work, and others, focus on affinity spaces online and mostly through massive multi-player online role playing games or fan-fiction sites (Gee, 2003; Squire & Steinkuehler, 2005; Squire, Giovanetto, Devane, & Durga, 2005; Black, 2007 ). However, the characteristics Gee describes are evident in many other online spaces, such as a collaborative wiki or Ning.

Black, R.W. (2007). Fanfiction writing and the construction of space. E-Learning, 4(4), 384–397. Retrieved from
Gee, J.P. (2003) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Squire, K., Giovanetto, L., Devane, B., & Durga, S. (2005). From users to designers: building a self-organizing game-based learning environment. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 49(5), 34-74.
Squire, K., & Steinkuehler, C. (2005). Meet the gamers. Library Journal 130(7), 38–42

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