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Collaboration and Scientific Capital

When talking about the idea of collaboration in the academy, Papatsiba (2013, p. 437) developed interesting aspects; such ideas are concerned with “... integrative principles underpinning collaborative (research- related) practice in the academy in order to provide a conceptual framework to reinstates the role of knowledge within collaborative formations.” If collaboration is an imperative, says Papatsiba (2013), it has to be promoted and one of these promotions can be focused on epistemic changes that occur in networks. So, “collaboration can be a source of stimulating and creativity. As to its potential to stimulate knowledge advancement, this can occur through numeric advantage and communication processes ... along with modes of understanding and intellectual, and sometimes social and moral, qualities, without forgetting standards of evaluation” (Papatsiba, 2013, p. 443). Academic collaboration involves a gathering of social and epistemic forces. Given that paradigm shifts take place in academia, practice shows that individualized work is turning to stimulate teamwork force (Papatsiba, 2013). New paradigms in academia lead to social, epistemic, and organizational changes. Thus, research policies have fostered this paradigmatic shift that characterizes a collaborative phase, group-based research. Increasingly, funding agencies and public policies have encouraged collaboration by prioritizing research in partnership; interinstitutional, international, regional agreements; feedback from external colleagues; coauthorship; visiting scholars; and interagency and international research training groups.

Collaboration seems to be a positive and welcome achievement to the practice of scientists. However, it entails risks to knowledge creation. The diversity in research groups, diffuse responsibilities, frustrations, conflicts, and lack of recognition of individual contributions may factor problems. Literature does not seem to be lavish when it comes to finding tools to increase collaboration or to resolve conflicts and disputes. The microcontexts of academic collaboration, where the actors inserted in networks interact and deal with the epistemic, their dilemmas and relationship difficulties, have not been sufficiently reviewed. The theme of collaboration in these microcontexts of networks challenges us to its study. Additionally, people seek for new tools to evaluate public-funded RNs. But what kind of collaboration are we talking about? Are there standards to be considered for evaluation procedures?

Sociology postulates that there is a reason to do what we do. Our attitudes and actions do not occur in a vacuum of meanings. Our entrance in a research group is not for free. There is also a kind of investment, a kind of illusio when we collaborate apparently for free. Illusio, for Bourdieu, is a Latin word (from ludus) which expresses the sense of being kept by the game, to believe that the game is good for the self and there are gains for the gamers. It is an enchanted relation with the game. So, it is interesting to be in, to participate, having things to do together, goals in common with other members (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 140). There is a relation of interests when our mental structures and our objective structures play a game in a social space that is affordable to us. We feel the need to invest in the scientific field if we see a future in it, and its importance as a project. Even ifwe cannot see the completion of this project, we can imagine it, a future with its own profit. But this law gain, profit in the scientific field, cannot be reduced merely to economic strict sense because there is a progressive differentiation. As explained by Pierre Bourdieu: “What makes people run and compete in the scientific field is not the same thing that makes them run and compete in the economic field” (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 148).

When there are so many fields beyond the scientific, like the social, economic, and artistic fields, different interests are manifest in each one. But perhaps Bourdieu did not predict or foresee that in times of globalization the interests in the scientific field are strongly mixed with the interests of the economic and social fields. Since the end of the last century, Bernstein explained this phenomenon by saying that knowledge is a symbolic asset that has market value and that one knows the knowledge also has value in the market: “Now we have the dislocation, which permits the creation of two independent markets, one of knowledge and another of knower” (Bernstein, 1990, p. 155).

The motivation to belong to the academic network is based on the expectation to enjoy a space for sharing and creation ofknowledge, which is itself one of the main reasons for collaboration. But, linked with the interest in a network research participation, there is a sense of economic rewards which will come from evaluation that multiply the individual production and will have repercussions on bonuses in the curricula of those who aspire to improve their career and consequently their wages and earnings in scientific marketplace. The effect of collaborating will be felt in wages and positions taken in the scientific field.

An RN creates collaborative schemes that are based on a predictable symbolic capital, a capital that is at the same time scientific and social. According to Bourdieu and Wacquant, social capital “is the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992, p. 119). The social and scientific capital of the research groups would be an intangible asset that exceeds the sum of the individual social and scientific capital of their members. Internal and external interactions would broaden this kind ofcapital and should promote the use and sharing of knowledge because there is a relational investment in search of gains that belonging to the group can provide (Bourdieu, 1996). Members of the network may not be aware of this purpose, but it embodies the idea of symbolic profit, resulting from trade-off of shared benefits and risks. This is a result in terms of symbolic capital, that is, a capital in cognitive basis, supported by knowledge and recognition (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 150, 2000, p. 75, 2001, pp. 199-233), a distinctive and honorable capital.

If we consider the symbolic capital increase as profit, its construction is founded on social relations built among individuals in a continuous work of maintaining links that are established more easily in networks with creative porosity. Further on, collaboration takes place in academic fields ofresearch in which knowledge integration activities operate. From the sociological point of view, it is possible to consider that the activities would be disinterested. If a fellow—student or a novice researcher—shows too much interest, he/she can be seen as self-seeking and will be misunderstood by peers in the academy. Now, collaborative RNs involve managing human groups with their interests not always visible, with their illusio and power games. In network management, it is necessary to consider the tensions and seek a dynamic balance between collaboration and competition.

The theme of collaboration in science is not new. What is new is that collaboration in the form of coauthorships, of teamwork, has been taken as a power component, a positive achievement welcomed by the world of science because it can multiply visible results of scientific work: “ ... the story is there in black and white: almost all original research papers have multiple authors. So far this year, in fact, Nature has published only six single author papers, out of a total of some 700 reports” (Whitfield, 2008, p. 720).

What makes a successful team? It turns out that the answer is not in the literature on academic collaboration in research. Collaboration intricacies are still little known, and there is a demand to seek its roots in other areas. We collect some aspects brought up by psychology that had its focus on the well-known theories of group dynamics.

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