George Head and Margaret Sutherland - International partnerships and collaborative working: easy to say but hard to do?


George Head and Margaret Sutherland recently spoke at the University of Glasgow's internationalisation conference. Below is an abstract of their paper. They would be happy to engage in discussion with subscribers, and make their full paper available.

There is growing recognition within development studies that if communities and Universities are to engage as co-workers in finding solutions to trans national issues then there has to be meaningful dialogue between the epistemologically different knowledge systems that exist.  Funding bodies have been calling for greater cross and interdisciplinary working within and across Universities.  This too has resulted in hitherto discrete disciplines each with their own cadre of experts coming together to address a common issue.  This seemingly simplistic idea of ‘coming together’ belies the complexities around the practicalities of effective knowledge exchange endeavours.  Tensions can exist within and across University departments as they seek to work collaboratively on interdisciplinary projects.  If cognisance is to be given to the different forms of knowledge and if one is to learn from the other and practice is to change then it is imperative that reflective learning across epistemological, cultural and institutional boundaries takes place and this requires some form of collaboration between the often disparate groups. 

Using the work of Wenger (1998), Engestrom (1999) and Head (2003)  this paper will explore the role of Universities within such dialogic opportunities and consider how an apparent range of contending and contested knowledge  systems can be brought together to create “communities of practice”.  By necessity talking about “communities of practice” opens up discussion about how individuals manage the complex interactions between them.  The perennial issues around dominant cultures, power constructs, voice and collaborative working become relevant for all who work with human beings.  It will be argued that we have the capacity to pool our mental resources to create knowledge through joint mental effort and it is though communal construction of knowledge we will begin to address institutional, geographical, cultural and epistemological diversity.  Using examples from practice we will offer instances of both successful and unsuccessful collaboration in one case within the same country and the same academic domain.



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