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Jeanne Féaux de la Croix

Collaborative and transdisciplinary research are ambitious and influential streams of thought in current anthropology. Collaboration represents a family of ideas often described as “transdisciplinary” in other disciplines. Proponents argue that collaborative models explicitly create greater recognition of research relationships and produce a more socially engaged research process. This research philosophy claims to produce more just, theoretically innovative, and robust research outcomes. Advocates highlight both the value and the difficulty of reformulating research relationships in this way, specifying conditions such as the need for heightened personal and programmatic reflexivity in the process. Debates over the essence of collaborative practice intersect with key theoretical questions around the (co)production of knowledge and power, including issues of representation, reflexivity, engaged and public anthropology, the nature of fieldwork, and tensions around the institutional logics of evaluating research excellence and usefulness. The collaborative ethos bears many similarities with earlier and related fields such as action anthropology and decolonizing agendas. The current popularity of the term should be viewed critically in the context of wider scientific and societal logics. The institutional homes of collaboration can be found in countries subscribing to democratic and human rights ideals, and those experiencing a strong push for Indigenous rights. Because of potential risks in self-consciously declaring collaboration, such research is relatively rare in authoritarian settings, though often practiced with a lower profile. Uncertainty also in predefining research outcomes is discussed as essential, producing both unexpected findings as well as potential failures. General patterns of reciprocity and degrees of power-sharing are differentiated along three axes. The more politically radical the outlook of the researcher, the less control over the project the researcher tends to exert. Second, the more socially similar researcher and counterpart are to one another, the higher the degree of power-sharing and reciprocity. Third, the more heterogeneous the kinds of people the project draws together, the more negotiation and potential friction it entails. The very popularity of the collaborative principle holds some risks, such as potentially leading to abusing collaboration as a source of “cheap” research labor. Further, often the unfamiliarity of funding reviewers with the principles of open-ended research design and value of alternative research products from standard academic publishing patterns can pose difficulties in realizing research. In addition, the often longer timeline of reaping the potentially huge benefits of collaboration also poses risks, especially for precariously employed researchers. In sum, the demanding discussion and practice of collaboration quickly takes on core disciplinary questions and uncertainties: what is good anthropology, who is it for, and how do you get there?