As I continue to delve into Wenger and deepen my understanding of his definition of communities of practice, small truths consistently pop off the pages.
The latest is a fantastic (and fairly exhaustive) list of indicators of the existence of a community of practice. There are fourteen characteristic behaviors outlined by Wenger, but I've selected a few salient examples here:
sustained mutual relationships (harmonious or conflictual)
absence of introductory preambles, as if conversations and interactions were merely the continuation of an ongoing process
the ability to assess the appropriateness of actions and products
certain styles recognized as displaying membership
jargon and shortcuts to communication as well as the ease of producing new ones
These characteristics are presented as part of a larger dialogue on the nature of locality in communities of practice, and the effect of contextualization on both the establishment of the community and the boundaries of its reach. Wenger wisely acknowledges that the mental definition of CoPs must be localized to some degree, as too broad of a scope "would miss crucial discontinuities among the various localities where relevant learning takes place." (ibid.) As Wenger's definition of CoPs hinges in a significant way on learning as a foundational characteristic of certain social groupings, it is vital that there is an expression to allow for (in)formal groupings of multiple CoPs, or an allowance made for social groups founded on learning and common goals that nevertheless are too discontinuous to be satisfactorily reified as a single community of practice.
Enter constellations of practices. This expression allows for a multiplicity of connection methodologies, ranging from physical tangency (disparate companies sharing a co-working space, for example, would comprise a constellation of practice) to intra-organizational relationships (the HR department and shipping department of a given company might have little in common on a daily basis, but their joint membership in a larger organization establishes their constellatory relation). Now scalability is possible- we can now talk about a group of nurses who work in a particular emergency room, or the global health profession with the same fluidity and lucidity.