19.221 collaboration

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 06:21:13 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 221.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 06:12:45 +0100
         From: Julia Flanders <Julia_Flanders_at_Brown.edu>
         Subject: Re: 19.215 how far collaboration?

This is a very interesting question, and one which is usually
answered from the viewpoint of "what is wrong with The Profession?"
In other words, we use collaboration as the sign of professional
health and its lack as indicating some malaise: anxiety about loss of
property or autonomy, lack of adequate recognition and reward
structure for collaborative work, disabling myths of genius, etc. I
think there's certainly something to all this.

However, it's also interesting to think about it from another
viewpoint: why are so many people bad collaborators? While we all pay
lip service to the idea that collaboration is a good thing (sort of
like sharing for toddlers), we don't all work at doing it well. Some
of the things I've observed (I should hasten to add, quite sincerely,
in *myself* as well as others) that make collaboration difficult, and
make one cautious about undertaking collaborative work:

--failure to meet essential deadlines and agreed standards of
quality, thereby holding up the collaborative project and
jeopardizing the work the rest of the group have put into it.

--mismanagement of difference of opinion: failure to signal
disagreement at a stage when it can be worked out; excessive
insistence on one's own approach or desires; failure to compromise
and lack of creativity in arriving at useful compromises (as opposed
to those which denature the project at hand)

--failures of professionalism: failure to limit the
emotional/personal content of exchanges in cases where that content
results in conflict rather than productivity; lack of emotional
maturity; failure to adhere to basic principles of politeness.

What is remarkable is how many collaborative efforts survive such
challenges. Some people are the natural glue that holds fragile
collaborative structures together, by working extra hard to
compensate for other's missed deadlines or shaky work, by yielding
when others are brittle, by ignoring petty outbursts and coming back
to the table.

One can understand these failures as failures of socialization--i.e.
many of us are raised in environments where individualism is valued
and where the difficult accommodations of collective effort are not
practiced (in the sense of making repeated attempts to improve). But
it would be too easy to blame our upbringing and let ourselves off
the hook entirely. We can do better. I hope this doesn't sound too
curmudgeonly. I am in the humanities computing community because it
struck me as so much more collaborative and less afflicted by the
problems listed above than the community I was escaping from, so this
is an affectionate rather than finger-shaking observation, and a
self-diagnosis as much as anything.

Best wishes, Julia

> Date: Thu, 18 Aug 2005 11:42:41 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
>I'd like to sample once again, in a somewhat different way, what
>members of Humanist think about collaborative work.
>It seems quite clear from our experience here in London that
>collaborative teams, semi-hierarchically structured, work very well
>in the development of scholarly software tools, and that the
>experience which comes out of such collaboration can result in a wide
>range of published work, from both technical practitioners and
>scholars, in the form of software and discursive prose. This comes as
>no surprise to anyone here, I'd suppose. It's been clear for many
>decades reaching beyond the century-mark that scholarly teams, in
>quite traditional academic research projects, have produced some of
>the most valuable scholarship we have. Those that have worked on such
>projects in the past may wish that greater social equality had
>obtained -- equal recognition for equal work -- and so may wish to
>comment on the meaning of "collaboration" under such circumstances.
>But broadly speaking, team-work does work well, yes?
>Being to some degree care-less I've used Humanist for some time (as I
>suspect others have too) openly to aid not just my research but also
>the writing, trying out many half-formed ideas in order to engage the
>help of others in improving them. At times it's seemed almost like
>collaborative thinking and writing. But how promising is this
>practice? Why aren't more people doing it? Are there perils I have
>not spotted?
Received on Tue Aug 23 2005 - 01:30:11 EDT

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