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Relational Boundaries in Knowledge-Related Collaboration

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Katarzyna Zdunczyk


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The paper synthesises the literature on boundaries in social science and derives a conceptual framework of boundaries informed by theories of social integration underlying the practice perspective in organisation theory. The framework offers a multifaceted view of the concept of boundaries developed by drawing on two complementary strands of sociology descended from the work of George Herbert Mead, i.e. practice theory and symbolic interactionism. Relational boundaries are defined as practices of interaction with other social actors in situations of physical or virtual co-presence. Depending on whether these are routine or improvisational in character, enactment practices may be classified as instantiation practices or reification practices. Instantiation is understood as routine, situated enactment of patterns of social interaction resulting in the reproduction of a given structure in a recursive way equivalent to Giddens’s view of the duality of agency and structure. Reification refers to the intentional enactment of difference and dependence (and thus barriers and connections) in interaction with others. Reification practices are practices deployed by social actors (individual or collective) in order to construct or re-construct social boundaries in accordance with their own theories of autonomy and dependence as applicable to a given context of interaction. The application of this framework to the outstanding body of practice-based research on boundaries in knowledge-related collaboration reveals an underexplored aspect of boundary theory, i.e. reification practices through which relational knowledge boundaries are constituted. The treatment of boundaries in knowledge-related collaboration within the PBS literature is further critiqued as vague with regard to definitions and tentative in relation to power. Accordingly, avenues for further research are suggested: specifically, the need to identify and explain the boundary reification practices evident in the interactions of collaborating actors in relation to knowledge flows, power distribution, and the associated strategies of engagement.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Zdunczyk K

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Conference Name: European Group of Organization Studies Annual Colloquium

Year of Conference: 2010