Brokering boundary encounters

These notes are part of a series for the book. This chapter looks at four case studies in its discussion of brokering and boundary objects.

Kubiak, C., Fenton-O’Creevy, M., Appleby, K., Kempster, M., Reed, M., Solvason, C., and Thorpe, M. (2015) ‘Ch. 5: Brokering boundary encounters’, in Wenger-Trayner, E., Fenton-O’Creevy, M., Hutchinson, S., Kubiak, C., and Wenger-Trayner, B. (eds) (2015) Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning, New York, Routledge.


  1. Practice education
  2. Developing learning resources for the practice setting
  3. Creating the team around the student on a Foundation Degree for Early Years Practitioners
  4. Convening networks in the pharmaceutical business
  5. Challenges of brokering


The chapter opens with an thought-provoking proposition: ‘[K]nowledgeability is more than competence within a single community of practice. [It] reflects a person’s connection with a multiplicity of practices across the landscape’ (Kubiak et al., 2015, p. 81). To develop those connections, one must have experiences that cross the boundaries of communities of practice (COPs), and that often involves brokering.

Wenger’s 1998 book identifies boundaries as having either (or both) explicit markers (titles and uniforms for example) and non-obvious ones (as seen with the glass ceiling, for example). Brokering is a connection between people in different COPs; it is a participation. Boundary objects are a reification. In a 2010 essay, he identifies boundaries as an area for potential innovation and also for potential wasting of time. In this book chapter, boundaries are ‘often places of misunderstanding and confusion [and] crossing a boundary… can result in feelings of inadequacy, personal failure, or disengagement’ (Kubiak, 2015, p. 81).

What’s going on here? Part of it is an issue of legitimacy. If you are outside a COP, by the very nature of being on the outside you ma be viewed skeptically by those on the inside.

Establish trust: One important aspect of brokering is establishing trust. This takes time because trust comes from relationships that have a shared history. Trust breaks down the feelings of uncertainty that get in the way of learning across boundaries.

Use boundary objects: A boundary object can be a bridge across a boundary. Each COP may use a common object, but in a different way, and it’s important to remember that using it differently is ok. The object supports the connection but does not require identical actions. One example given is that of a blueprint. A single blueprint is one object that may be used differently by different COPs (such as electricians, builders, and interior decorators).

Get permission: One well-established way to gain legitimacy is to get the permission and backing of management or other people in positions of authority.

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