what’s the secret to establishing a sense of enthusiastic, self-propelling creative energy in a collaboration? if it was mere intention, than all types of collaborative work (academic, corporate, artistic) would be wildly endowed, for we’d all rather enjoy our work than work to enjoy it. it is a sense progressive corporations may go to great lengths to stimulate or stage, knowing its effect on productivity.
but hopefully we’re all lucky enough to know that this type of collaboration occurs without intention, as if by sheer luck of right people, right time, right project. this ideal form of collaboration resists methodology, especially if its goal is given from the top. the elusiveness of this ideal form of collaboration is a great regret for both organizations and individuals, for it makes the quotidian collaboration seem lacking, burdensome, busyworkish, a waste of time. the experience of an ideal collaboration is the subject of much nostalgia for it gives an energy impossible to find elsewhere, a sense of community, joy and innovation beyond the imagination. collaborative members find themselves doing and thinking what they could not previously.
while reading collaborative futures i am struck that this so-called ideal form of collaboration i’m musing about (a term to be picked apart later of course) always involves at least a small peppering of middle fingers. notice the joyful use of “bullshit” in the collaborative futures book when critiquing the rhetoric of “web 2.0”. the critique of capitalism, the liberal subject and traditional modes of organizing creative output are not incidental content of this book’s collaborative energy, but precisely what produces this energy. looking back on my own semi-idyllic past collaborations i would say that they are always energized to the extent that they rebel against another way of thinking or doing. a collaboration’s vitality, so to speak, is based on the extent that it organizes against another dominant system of organization. that is precisely the thrill that motivates.
but motivates what? for awhile now i have been thinking about collaboration in terms of what it produces: science! technology! conversation! art! etc! when trying to figure out if one might paradoxically plan for this unplannable ideal form of collaboration, i thought one must first decide what one is trying to produce by such collaboration. it occurs to me now, however, that the products of such collaborations are really byproducts of the true fruit of collaboration which is the personal and earnest engagement with others, an intimate meeting of minds. wild things happen when a group of individuals are suddenly organized by their personal relations with each other rather than the way society/university/workplace has mandated. these inexpressibly rich, bottom up, organic connections are most powerful in the way they re-imagine the social organization of the world rather than the commodities or art forms they produce.
so, is there any worth in thinking about collaboration in terms of its social activity rather than what it produces? and if such “rebellious” energy is a necessary ingredient for the ideal form of collaboration, how do we utilize it within the academy which demands professionalism and formality?
Let me preface by apologizing for the title– I can’t steer clear of a tasteless reference to Vanilla Ice for really anything. 🙂
I’m first going to discuss what I felt were some of the more interesting definitions or ideas about collaboration, in thinking about the nature of collaboration itself, before turning to some of the issues that I’ve experienced in collaborative situations– especially when it comes to creating a concrete outcome for any given project. In the third section of this post, I’ll raise questions about collaboration and its place in the academy, working off of one of the main prompts for this week’s reading.
The Nature of Collaboration
The nature of collaboration, especially in several of these pieces, seems to focus upon the digital and upon digital tools to help foster collaborative relationships. In Unsworth’s piece “Creating Digital Resources: The Work of Many Hands” there is a suggestion that the collaborative is unmistakably intertwined with the digital. He writes, “Computers make it possible to pose questions, to frame research problems, that would otherwise be impossible to imagine. The computer provides us with the ability to keep track of enormous amounts of information, to sort and select that information rapidly and in many different ways, and to uncover in reams of mute data the aesthetically and intellectually apprehensible patterns on which understanding depends.” He goes on to talk about some sort of utopian space of the future, where computers will understand us, but says that for now, we must rely upon those who understand computers to get those messages across for us (presumably for those academics, like me, who might be a bit technologically challenged). Now, this idea doesn’t seem collaborative in the slightest to me. It seems like a frustrated thank-you to someone Unsworth *needed* to complete a digital project, without having the know-how himself. Does this seem like a vision of collaboration to be upheld and praised? Or is complicating the idea of collaboration (which is such a positive, upbeat sounding word) what we need?
In Collaborative Futures, the authors suggest that we can view collaboration as a sort of open relationship– we set guidelines and a different sort of ‘social pact’ in order to help us in our partnerships, rather than adhering to the monogamous relationships imagined here, which are deemed potentially ‘too fragile a social fabric’. They write that “Under a contract, the terms of collaboration are clear and legally binding. When collaboration is open and there is no explicit contract, the binding terms can be a shared passion, a common goal, a sense of community (or the lack thereof), but nevertheless, the need for implicit and explicit structure remains” (40). This definition of collaboration (and the overall theme, throughout the course of the piece, that the collaborative endeavor upon which the authors were embarking might be an exercise in futility and needless work) seems to me lovely but perhaps impractical. Perhaps I’ve ever only heard of drama involving “open relationships” and the metaphor confused the message they attempted to get across, but it seems that an acknowledgement of the need for structure, coupled with the idea that sheer passion is needed to propel the collaborators through the project, is a bit idealistic and does not address the very real potential concerns in an open collaboration.
Collaboration and Frustration
Perhaps this is my own challenge– perhaps everyone else has had extremely fruitful and successful collaborative exchanges that leave them feeling like all partners were honest and equal contributors to a labor of love. The idea of collaboration speaks to me and I think those who write about it (including, but not limited to the authors we’ve encountered this week) generally do so in a way that leaves me thinking, “Yes! This is what I’m missing! Sign me up!”
And then I engage in a project of a collaborative nature and run into the same frustrating challenges. One of us has misunderstood the intentions of the other, despite hours of communication. One of us has the governing idea for a project, which goes unrealized by the other team members– or perhaps is unyielding when asked about it. One person isn’t good about deadlines, another has an issue checking his or her email, and a third has run into a major personal crisis at the eleventh hour, leaving the rest of the team members to fill in the gaps. Each collaborative project I’ve participated in that resulted in some concrete outcome– that is, some kind of paper or proposal– there have been complications that have left me feeling more frustrated by the experience than able to enjoy those wonderful ‘Ah ha!’ moments that only come in working with groups.
Here, I guess, my question is: what are some of the things that collaboration can give us that other modes of work cannot? If you’ve found collaboration frustrating or perhaps ‘not worth it’ in the past, why? What can we do or how can we think about collaboration to diminish those attitudes and increase the positive outcomes of collaboration?
Collaborating in the Academy
One of the questions steering this week’s reading was: ‘digital scholarship and pedagogy rewards and often times requires collaboration at a level not previously expected of academics. How does this change the labor we do, our approaches to imagining and designing projects?’ I thought about this in connection with a story I recently heard from an adviser of mine, who admitted that she was reprimanded during her annual review for doing “too much collaborative work” and not enough on her own. Now, she works in a much more ‘traditional’ academic field, but the comment made me think twice about the role of collaboration, especially in tandem with the digital humanities or digital scholarship in general.
I think, like alternative forms of publishing, digital scholarship pushes the envelope in academy. So I’d like to add to this question– not only how does the collaborative expectation change the work that we and how it is imagined, designed, and implemented, but also, how is that work viewed by the academy and by society in general? Does collaboration change the way we view the work that has been done– and if so, how?
And here’s a brief rehash:
I recently joined the New Media Lab (NML) at the CUNY Graduate Center. The lab coordinators asked me to create an icon and write a blurb about my project that will be posted on the NML website.
I wanted to use WebNotes to critique the real NML page, however, it will not be posted for another couple of weeks and as you know this assignment for ITP Core II is due by tomorrow. So I have pasted the blurb and icon on my blog. Then I used WebNotes to comment on this icon and blurb. I found it a bit overwhelming when I looked at the WebNotes; to ameliorate this I suggest minimizing all of the stickies and then going through and maximizing and minimizing as you please.