Wenger (1998) introduced the idea of “communities of practice” (CoPs) as an analytical concept intended to help elucidate the links between knowledge, learning, and communities within organizations. CoPs are groups of people who interact and perform common tasks, e.g., an interorganizational working group. CoPs are created by the members participating in them, who develop a shared repertoire of resources. Wenger conceives of learning as social participation or “the social experience of living in the world in terms of membership in social communities and active involvement in social enterprises” (Wenger 1998:55-56). Participation can take different forms: “conflictual as well as harmonious, intimate as well as political, competitive as well as cooperative” (Wenger 1998:55-56).
Participation alone remains too open without the other constituent process that transfers the negotiation of meaning into something tangible: reification or giving concrete form to something abstract. Wenger uses this concept to refer to “the process of giving form to our experience by producing objects that congeal this experience into ‘thingness’” (Wenger 1998:58-59), through making, designing, or representing things. Wenger points out that, although participation and reification are analytically separable, in reality they are a single duality, and one cannot replace the other. Participation is indeterminate without reification, and reifications become meaningless without participation. In terms of the social learning concept developed in the HarmoniCOP project, social involvement and content management can be distinguished analytically but do not exist independently in a real social system.