- Research through Collaborative RelationshipsA Middle Ground for Reciprocal Transformations and Translations?
Joanne Rappaport's article has two main virtues. On the one hand, she provides a thoughtful summary of very diverse experiences of collaborative research. On the other, she expands the field of vision of our discussions by means of key displacements of focus: from collaborative research to research through collaborative relationships; and from products to processes. She does so by means of a very ethnographic contextualization and historization of the initiatives of La Rosca de Investigación y Acción Social (Circle of Social Research and Action), a group deeply related to Orlando Fals Borda's appealing methodology of "action research."
One common problem in our attempts to discuss collaborative endeavors results from the fact that we always produce situated knowledge within situated contexts and histories. Thus, instead of general statements on the topic, what we all can share are situated experiences. Against such a backdrop, I cannot but make explicit that the reading I can make of Rappaport's contributions mostly comes from my experience with members of the Mapuche-Tewelche people of northwestern Patagonia, in Argentina. I am aware that other experiences might bring about different ruminations. In any event, during more of thirty years of interactions and exchanges, my interlocutors have expected and demanded from me (and I from them) very different things. Hence several of the resulting activities can be thought of as collaborations, but not as what we all try to grasp through the idea of collaborative research and methodologies, [End Page 32] if by these we plainly mean practices aiming at a co-theorization and co-analysis that emanate from an explicit agreement to do so.
Therefore, of the many interesting points raised by Joanne, I concentrate on two. First, the idea of collaboration as a chain of multifaceted conversations and then the notion that what seems to be "already there" is "in a continuous state of flux, an ongoing process of creation."
Colleagues performing conversational analysis point out that what counts in any conversation is who rules the exchange—how and following whose agenda. In terms of a collaborative methodology and from a pragmatic viewpoint, the key point is that there can be different forms of proposing and performing conversations. Some interactions can indeed take on dialogical dynamics. However, others are monologues even if giving the appearance of an exchange. Closed questions that imply expected responses or allow mostly for yes/no answers end up in one party controlling and passing the floor and even in unilateral decisions about when the game is over. Moreover, if we approach conversations as processes, within a single talk there can be more than one form of exchange.
In any event, we can invest "conversations" with a significance that surpass the idea of mere exchange. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, conversation is not a mere dialogue, because it comes from and means "living together, having dealings with others," and also reflects a "manner of conducting oneself in the world." Coming from the Latin conversationem—a noun of action from the past participle stem of conversari, "to live with, keep company with," literally "to turn about with," from the Latin com, "with" + vertare, frequentative of vertere—it also means "to turn, turn back, be turned, convert, transform, translate, be changed" (see http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term = conversation). We can thus assume that conversations can also involve reciprocal transformations and translations. But what is it that should be transformed or translated through collaborations as chains of conversations? What or who is it that we attempt to transform and translate?
The collaborative turn can be seen as the result of the severe and necessary criticisms that anthropology has developed of science and scientific research in general, and of our discipline in particular. I believe that what moves most of us to engage in collaborations of different sorts is mainly our aim of neutralizing asymmetries and of undoing the unilateral privileges that researchers have as members of a dominant educated class or group, gender, or region. Now then, insofar as we keep on defining [End Page 33] ourselves as researchers (and in that...