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Disciplinary Enculturation - Theory and Praxis

An adjunct to the book chapter, William Badke, "Framing Information Literacy within the Disciplines of Theological Education, " providing further practical options.

What is Disciplinary Enculturation?

[The following information is adjunct to William Badke, "Framing Information Literacy within the Disciplines of Theological Education." In Information Literacy and Theological Librarianship: Theory and Praxis. Ed. Bobby L. Smiley, 59-82. Chicago: Atla Press, 2019. Available open access: Individual chapter: Chapter4.pdf.]

Many students in higher education, even in graduate school, begin as outsiders when they encounter disciplines related to their courses.  Their professors are the experts.  They are not.  The terminology, literature, and even cultures of these disciplines form barriers to participation.  Disciplinary enculturation is the process by which students become active participants within disciplines rather than outsiders trying to look over disciplinary walls.

Disciplines need to be seen as "communities of practice"* rather than as repositories of knowledge.  As such, they have an agreed upon knowledge base (with variants), a culture (with variants), and a methodology (with variants).  Three terms label these elements of communities of practice: epistemology, metanarrative, and method. Disciplinary analysis is a first step for students entering into disciplinary communities as participants.  Beginning students must ask key questions that compel a discipline to explain itself, thus providing a path to enculturation.

Below, we describe the elements and their relevant questions.

* Jean Lave, and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Stephen Billett, "Situated Learning: Bridging Sociocultural and Cognitive Theorising," Learning and instruction 6, no. 3 (1996): 263-280; .Robert Farrell and William Badke, "Situating Information Literacy in the Disciplines: A Practical and Systematic Approach for Academic Librarians," Reference Services Review 43, no. 2 (2015): 319-340.

 For a short, though probably simplistic, presentation on this approach to disciplinary analysis, see

Elements of disciplinary analysis

Epistemology - This relates to the knowledge base which has formed over time.  Why does it include what it does, how did the various pieces of knowledge gain acceptance over time, and what is central as opposed to outlying knowledge?  Epistemology is well described by the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education's threshold concept, "Authority is Constructed and Contextual."  By this we mean that information produced in a discipline has to go through rigorous criteria to gain acceptance both as reliable and as relevant to the community of practice.  The authority of any one piece of research or information is not a given.

Metanarrative - Metanarrative (the explanations for the narrative) involves the cultural understanding of a discipline.  Who are we? What do we value?  What guides our narrative (our practice)?  Who are our alternative voices, and how do they help shape our culture? How do we discourse with one another around our scholarship?  Metanarrative interacts with epistemology in that a discipline's values and culture help determine what sort of a knowledge base it affirms and which scholars it finds most authoritative.

Method - Method describes how a discipline advances itself.  Every discipline has a rigorous methodology that determines how its research is carried out.  Its members adhere to these set methods, though some researchers may adopt more experimental methods.  Method is informed by metanarrative, because a discipline's culture helps shape the methodology.  Similarly, method interacts with epistemology in two ways: 1. The knowledge based used in research comes from the body of work recognized by disciplinary practitioners. 2. The method, when applied according to disciplinary principles, adds to the knowledge base.

Relevant questions


  • What is the most essential knowledge in the discipline? - This does not demand a listing of the major documents but a description of nature of the knowledge base (primary and secondary sources; identity of leading scholars, and so on).
  • How did the knowledge base develop over time?


  • What motivates scholars in this discipline? - While motivation may seem like only a partial exploration of metanarrative, it gets to the heart of why scholars in a discipline do what they do and helps to define their shared purposes.
  • How diverse is this discipline's metanarrative?


  • What are the standard methods used by this discipline?
  • How do new or alternative methods gain acceptance in the discipline?