Vygotskian advice about collaboration?

This month, I’m looking at collaboration with the help of Vera John-Steiner and Holbrook Mahn. In their pithily titled paper ‘Sociocultural Approaches to Learning and Development: A Vygotskian Framework‘, they present a model of collaboration that reveals four patterns of collaborative behaviour:

  • distributed: the exchange of information around shared interests
  • complementary: the negotiation of objectives with a clear division of labour
  • family: the sharing of goals across a fluid partnership
  • integrative: longer term and intimate sharing of roles and ideologies

They represent these patterns, and their characteristics, as a circle. ‘Integrative’ sits in the centre, surrounded by successive layers emanating out like ripples on a pond (although they take care to assert that there is no rigidity in these divisions).  Their goal in doing so is to ‘examine how the resolutions of tensions inherent in collaborations transforms the character of the collaboration and determine whether it continues.’

I think that this is interesting approach, particularly as it acknowledges that conflict is at the heart of collaboration. This is not something that I’d considered, but makes sense. I don’t mean so say that we should take sharpened axes into the seminar room, but it seems reasonable to me to state the the measure of a collaboration is the success in which differences in opinion can be both managed and exploited. As John-Steiner and Mahn imply it is possible to manage conflict through the use of authority (this is what we’re going to do) or negotiation  (let’s agree to disagree). However, if it is to endure and flourish then participants need to develop a unified voice by sharing ideas, values and methods. This is difficult thing to do.

So, this month, I’m going to try and figure out how best to collaborate. Questions to consider include:

  • Does authority inhibit collaboration?
  • Is long term collaboration good collaboration?
  • What is the balance between emotion and logic in collaboration?

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