The paradox of collaboration

Bruce Macfarlane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
374 Downloads (Pure)


Collaboration is a modern mantra of the neoliberal university and part of a discourse allied to research performativity quantitatively measured via co-authorship. Yet, beyond the metrics and the positive rhetoric collaboration is a complex and paradoxical concept. Academic staff are exhorted to collaborate, particularly in respect to research activities, but their career and promotion prospects depend on evaluations of their individual achievements in developing an independent body of work and in obtaining research funding. This central paradox, among others, is explored through analysing collaboration as a moral continuum. At one end of this continuum are other-regarding interpretations of collaboration involving the free sharing of ideas for the common good of scientific advance (collaboration-as-intellectual generosity), nurturing the development of less experienced colleagues (collaboration-as-mentoring) and disseminating knowledge claims via a range of scholarly platforms (collaboration-as-communication). However, other forms of collaboration are essentially self-regarding illustrating the pressures of performativity via increased research output (collaboration-as-performativity), through practices that reinforce the power of established networks (collaboration-as-cronyism) and the exploitation of junior researchers by those in positions of power and seniority (collaboration-as-parasitism). Whilst collaboration has always been at the heart of academic labour its paradoxes illustrate how individual and collective goals can come into conflict through the measurement of academic performance and the way in which such audits have perverted the meaning of collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)472-485
Number of pages14
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

Bruce Macfarlane is professor of higher education at the University of Bristol

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


  • Collaboration, research, neoliberalism, performativity, ethics


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