- Introduction to the Special Issue
The notion of collaboration has a fraught history. Historically in Europe the concept of collaboration carried negative connotations associated with WWII, where persons who worked for the occupying Axis forces were labeled "collaborators." However, in an example of how words and concepts can be successfully reclaimed and redefined, collaboration in anthropology over the last forty years has increasingly gained favor. In disciplines as diverse as design, development studies, somatic education and therapy, theatre and performance studies, art, and museum studies as well as in anthropology, the concept of collaboration has come to signify an attempt toward decolonization or a move toward equitable relations in scholarly inquiries. On the one hand, this move has clear potential, emphasizing the co-produced nature of research. On the other hand, we find that all too quickly all sorts of work practices come to be labeled "collaborative" without due attention to their embedded implications. As the editors of a recent special issue of this journal write, "Over the past ten years collaboration has become a key value and practice of the discipline of anthropology that is now largely unquestioned" (Hyatt and Quintiliani 2016, vii). In this special issue we ask in what ways are the joint work practices we have engaged in collaborative? The age-old question in anthropology is relevant here, as always: Is it useful to proceed as if collaboration were a universal form? Most important, this special issue focuses on questions of onto/epistemologies in collaborations and how these affect the orthopraxy of academic anthropology. We ask: What happens to the skill, craft, discipline and community of practice of anthropology, including of course writing ethnography, at a moment [End Page 1] when so many hopes are pinned on collaboration? This special issue is dedicated to exploring the nuances of diverse projects that were all collaborative but each in its own way. Where the authors find common ground is in their attention to the politics of knowledge and, in particular, to the question of what attention to onto/epistemology highlights in the exploration of collaborative approaches.
In this introduction I elaborate the onto/epistemological assumptions embedded in the concept of collaboration as it has been put to work in anthropological projects at various points in the history of the discipline. The introduction goes on to explore "epistemic colonialism" by tracing the development of what is considered "scholarly" knowledge and the role of collaboration in this. I argue first of all that for collaboration to fulfill the hopes of decoloniality that much anthropological work pins on it, questions of epistemology need to be thoroughly examined as inextricable from ontological ones. Second, the notion of collaboration as the beacon of hope that it is in today's anthropology should be considered in the context of a long history in which "knowledge" is first sedimented into homogenized "disciplines" and then becomes "connectable" in "collaboration," "interdisciplinarity," and so-called knowledge exchange or knowledge transfer programs. This introduction, in conversation with the contributions to the special issue, thus examines the impulse to connect across categories considered different, such as different ways of knowing. Such a desire to reach across categories of difference is clearly rooted in a Western ontology of sameness and difference (Candea et al. 2015). Therefore, since understandings of alterity and mutuality themselves are clearly not universal, questions about ways of connecting and disconnecting, such as collaboration, require some thought. This special issue goes some way to suggest what collaborations that place concerns about "epistemic colonialism" explicitly at the forefront of their joint work might look like and the challenges the participants in these examples of joint work faced.
Collaboration in Anthropology
Prodded by post-colonial and subaltern studies (cf. Said 1978; Spivak 1988), by the 1980s anthropologists could no longer ignore the hegemonic effect of their writing. Since, at the time and unlike sociologists, the discipline was distinguished by the study of such colonial "others," anthropological texts were likely examples of orientalism (Clifford 1986). [End Page 2] The self-scrutiny that followed, especially of the anthropologist's main craft, ethnography, focused on understanding and redressing the othering effects of writing (Clifford 1986). The focus of this...