Research communities

According to Wenger (1998), there are four components identifying learning, namely: meaning, practice, communit)' and identity.

These components of learning are defined as follows:

  • 1. Meaning: talking about our ability to experience the world as meaningful;
  • 2. Practice: talking about shared historical and social resources, frameworks and perspectives that sustain mutual engagement in action;
  • 3. Community: talking about the social configurations in which our enterprise is defined and our participation is recognisable as competence;
  • 4. Identity: talking about how learning changes who we are.

Here we focus on ‘Practice’ and ‘Community’, approaching and analysing the term “communities of practice " as an overlay concept of research communities. According to Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Evolutions ”, there are different research paradigms rooted in research communities and practice (Kuhn, 1970).These paradigms can be characterised by different elements, namely:

  • • they can be centred around a specific problem, or set of problems, regarded as particularly significant in relation to the advancement of knowledge;
  • • they can be about shared practice and shared understanding about which research techniques are appropriate for investigating that issue;
  • • they can involve a sense of shared identity, which can be reinforced both through the processes of information exchange of the particular community (specialist publications and conferences) and through the interpersonal networks that practitioners establish in relation to their area of research.
  • • And fourth, these paradigms operate through groups of practitioners operating in research communities.

Therefore, research communities can exist at a number of levels. At the highest level, such a community is formed by all those engaged in scientific research. At a lower level there are communities operating at the level of subject disciplines, and within these there are sub-communities linked to particular areas and sub-disciplines. Communities, in other words, can exist at different levels and will vary in size.They can be quite small, particularly in the case of'cutting edge’ research, and membership of one community does not automatically exclude membership of another. It is a common practice that researchers can be in multiple communities according to their interests, affiliation, or status.

Rethinking for a moment the term ‘research communities’ to the concept of ‘communities of practice’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998; Wenger & Snyder, 2000), this last term derived from social learning theory and developed largely' in connection with the management of knowledge in formal organisations, capturing also practices of researchers within academic institutions and research organisations. Compared with formal groups created within organisations, who follow a specific structure, tasks and identity, communities of practice can, and do, transcend boundaries of departments, organisations, locations and seniority. The idea behind these communities of practice is that they' come into existence through the need to collaborate and learn. Following this, it is possible to have virtual communities based entirely on communication technologies that eliminate the need for face-to-face contact.

What brings them together as a community, though, is that they share a common purpose (Johnson-Lenz & Johnson-Lenz, 1999, cited in Denscombe, 2008) and that common purpose reflects a need to know what each other knows (Brown, cited in Denscombe, 2008). "Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they' do and learn how to do it better as they' interact regularly ”, according to Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner (2015). Members of such communities can interact in different ways and have different goals, however they are bound together due to the common (research) interests and knowledge that they want to exchange. Some examples of activities that such communities develop (as listed by, as above) are:

  • • Problem solving
  • • Requests for information
  • • Seeking experience
  • • Reusing assets
  • • Coordination and strategy'
  • • Building an argument
  • • Growing confidence
  • • Discussing developments
  • • Documenting projects
  • • Visits
  • • Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps

Depending on where the concept of communities of practice is applied (research, education, web, etc), the scientific domain, the goals of a community and its members, different kinds of activities are developed that best represent the common needs, interests and gaps.

The term ‘communities of practice’ has acquired some negative connotations as it raises concerns that it might elevate practice-based knowledge above more theoretical and abstract forms of knowledge. However, according to the Mixed Methods approach (Denscombe, 2008; Johnson, Onwuegbuzie, & Turner, 2007;

Maxwell & Loomis, 2003), communities of practice have been treated primarily as a description of how research communities operate, rather than prescribing a path that ought to be followed. In this respect, there is no clear distinction between practitioners and researchers. Therefore, in this chapter, when referring to ‘communities of practice' we refer to communities of researchers who work within academic and research institutions.

Research infrastructuresfor research communities

Research infrastructures (RIs) offer a means in which research communities can come together. According to the European Commission, RIs are facilities, resources and services used by the science community to conduct research and foster innovation4. They may include major scientific equipment (or sets of instruments); skilled personnel engaged in services, competence development and outreach; knowledgebased resources such as collections, archives or scientific data; and e-infrastructures, such as data and computing systems and communication networks’. Research infrastructures can be single-sited (a single resource at a single location), distributed (a network of distributed resources), or virtual (the service is provided electronically). Based on this nature and scope, the ways research communities interact with research infrastructures is potentially rich.

Mapping this interaction to the activities communities of practice develop, based on Wenger (Wenger, 1998), research infrastructures function as the space for problem-solving and requesting information, either by accessing knowledge and resources, or by communicating with the community. The nature of RIs as networks of people, knowledge and expertise enables seeking experience, discussing developments and growing confidence scientifically as members of a recognised and established infrastructure. Finally, a significant part of activities undertaken in RIs has to do with strategic thinking, understanding and representing a research community. Members of such networks are therefore exposed to coordination and strategy activities, mapping knowledge and identifying gaps of a research field.

Within the Humanities and Social Sciences, and in a European context, examples of RIs include DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for Arts and Humanities), CLARIN (Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure), and CESSDA (Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives) to name a few. We briefly discuss the role of RIs for research communities as part of this chapter.

Scholarly practices

Data management within scholarly practices

Moving on to research practices and day-to-day research workflows, the discussion here renders from the scholarly research primitives and practices, outlined by Palmer et al (Palmer, Tefteau, & Pirmann, 2009) and Unsworth (Unsworth, 2000). As suggested in the EHR1" deliverable report 16.4‘Researcher Practices and User Requirements’, working practices within the broad Humanities field share common fundamental processes across disciplines (Angelis et al., 2013); these fundamental processes have been defined and approached several times, leading to various interpretations of scholarly activities. By reviewing literature and other various taxonomies to approach and define research practices for the context of this study, a long list of different practices was retrieved which captures the research process in detail. Here, we mostly adopt the following “principles” or “primitives”:

Palmer’s Scholarly Principles (2009)

  • • Searching
  • • Collecting
  • • Reading
  • • Writing
  • • Collaborating
  • • Cross-cutting:
  • * Monitoring
  • * Note-taking
  • * Translating
  • * Data Practices

Unsworths Scholarly Primitives (2000)

  • • Discovering
  • • Annotating
  • • Comparing
  • • Referring
  • • Sampling
  • • Illustrating
  • • Representing

Though these practices can be applied to all Humanities researchers, further literature captures more specialised research workflows according to different sub-disciplines. For example, Kemman et al. identify four stages of scholarly research for oral historians as‘exploration and selection’,‘exploration and investigation’,‘result presentation’ and ‘data curation' (Kemman, Scagliola, de Jong, & Ordelman, 2014). On the other hand, Rutner and Schonfeld in their 2011-2012 ITHAKA report on “Supporting the changing research practices of historians” define a whole different set of research practices mainly based on the nature of collaboration of historians with librarians for research content (Rutner & Schonfeld, 2012).

Depending on the specialised needs of each discipline, the scholarly content and discipline-specific tools, research practices can vary. For the purposes of this chapter, we have taken practices and primitives from both Palmer et al. and Unsworth that correspond closely to the two case studies presented in this chapter; Sociolinguistics and Environmental Humanities.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >