A wide range of scientific and scholarly activities contribute to how science and research create new knowledge. Knowledge as such comes in different forms, enriches the human record, and provides tools, methods, and techniques that guide societal handling of events. However, as a consequence of and a reaction to new technological, societal, or political changes, the process of producing new knowledge has changed quite dramatically over time.1 There are a lot of steps that constitute the process of knowledge production, but often only in the combination of “knowledge from different domains” is “the essence of innovation” created (Kertcher 49). “Interdisciplinary collaboration is [thus] key to solving complex tasks” (ID+Lab) and promises not only systemic transformation of science and research (Kertcher 60) but influences society as a whole. Co-creation of knowledge across different professional cultures is not always an easy undertaking and challenges traditions that were built over centuries. However, it can also offer a “markedly unique alternative to the technologies and practices of a [single] scientific community” (Kertcher 50) and thus contribute to change.
Interdisciplinary knowledge production is at the core of digital humanities (DH) research. Without interdisciplinary teams that are equipped with special expertise in many fields, success in projects is only achieved in very few cases. Collaboration is thus “a major hallmark of digital humanities practice” (Nowviskie) and a pre-condition for the fruitful co-creation of knowledge within (mainly, but not only) the humanities and (computer) sciences. But what really is in a DH project? Besides the research-related questions and tasks, what are the systematic and structural components of a DH project? And how can many stakeholders with different backgrounds cooperate and “follow a conceptual workflow that considers all aspects of collaboration” (Alharbi et al. 54)? Which leads to a central question of this paper: what factors influence project planning and management?
Many aspects play important roles in the process of interdisciplinary knowledge production. The paper at hand takes a closer look at one aspect that is not always in focus in collaborative research projects: temporality, concluding time as continued progress of events, and rhythm as a regular repetition of patterns or actions. Because “efforts to align […] rhythms constitute an important and under-recognized aspect of scientific work” (Jackson et al. 1), I am taking a closer look at temporality as an integral part of collaboration. In order to demonstrate the importance of this topic, I start by outlining definitions of interdisciplinary collaborations and pointing out disciplinary gaps that emerge when different research cultures cooperate. Without a basic understanding of research cultures and practices in different fields, realization of (successful) interdisciplinary projects will be much harder to achieve. I argue that researchers in various interdisciplinary combinations have to be aware of their own disciplinary (project) culture to be able to bridge emerging gaps between disciplines and align research practices and goals towards producing new knowledge. Having the knowledge to align research and collaboration rhythms leads to a fundamental understanding of one’s own discipline and supports the process of knowledge production overall.
As research nowadays often relies on interdisciplinary collaboration to “combine knowledge across different communities of practice” (Kertcher 50), the meeting place for finding solutions and producing new knowledge gets larger and larger. In order to face the variety of challenges which accompany any new research, it is important to develop a common vision. Shared questions, intended goals, outputs, and outcomes of research, as well as emerging issues that arise, constitute the collaboration process and are always part of the cooperation.
One way to approach this is by actually knowing what it means to be part of an interdisciplinary collaboration and what obligations and defining characteristics those collaborations entail. Di Guilio et al. explain that:
Inter- or transdisciplinary research claims to provide knowledge and solutions that could not be achieved through a purely disciplinary action, and to deal with questions that arise from a purely disciplinary perspective could not be captured. ‘Interdisciplinarity’ refers to an integration-oriented cooperation knowledge of people from at least two disciplines. (70)
Answering problems or challenges by breaking and overcoming (at least one) disciplinary boundary thus promises to find better solutions and leads to more extensive knowledge after all. Hence, “one of the defining characteristics of digital humanities is its emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration” (Kemman, “Boundary Practices” 1) and the development of projects that work across disciplinary boundaries. However, it is not always easy to establish a common ground to negotiate goals and practices within these projects and set up a collaborative “meeting place for computational experts and humanities scholars” (Edmond; Svensson; Kemman, “Boundary Practices” 2) that work right away. For truly working together means that a common ground for shared practices and vocabularies must be developed. On these common grounds, goals and practices within the collaboration (Siemens; Siemens et al.; Kemman, “Boundary Practices” 2) must be coordinated in order to work through a research process together that operates in a continuous circle and not in one-way linear progressions.
These processes can be mediated through different methods, such as the coordination of, cooperation with, and collaboration within research teams, because “collaboration has the capacity to bring previously separated organizations into a new structure with full commitment to a common mission” (Harley and Blismas 18). However, it is not to be underestimated that building “such relationships require[s] comprehensive planning and well-defined communication channels operating on many levels” (18). And that authority is determined and the risk at failing and not creating new knowledge after all is much greater. Harley and Blismas define seven essential elements that form the basis for a fruitful collaboration: communication, trust and respect, equality and power, strategic alliances or partnerships, incentives, negotiation, and inter-organizational knowledge sharing (18–25). It is, therefore, obvious that
although some coordination can be accomplished through project structure, for example, by creating clear lines of authority and division of labor [in theory], science is dynamic, and members of the collaboration still must talk out common problems, discuss shared resources, and monitor and review the work to make joint progress. (Cummings and Kiesler 704)
Understanding each other’s (research) culture is thus indispensable, and acknowledging a “collaborative gap [that] results from cultural differences” (Kertcher 49) can help to form a multifaceted and dynamic process (ID+Lab) to play out the “transformative potential” (Kertcher 50) that lies within these interdisciplinary collaborations.
Different facets of digital humanities research call for collaboration among experts from different backgrounds (Kemman, “Boundary Practices” 1). That is where various disciplinary differences play out: the humanities is, on the one hand, often seen as doing solitary scholarship with individual aims and an individual scholar at the core of the research process. On the other hand, the sciences are understood as doing research in teams: “This division is reinforced by a reluctance of scholars to adopt collaboration in opposition to a “science model” of their research, with practices of collaboration standing in contrast to established disciplinary cultures” (Kemman Trading Zones 62). These divisions need to be considered more closely when doing interdisciplinary research. A possibility to approach these separations is by understanding the research and project cultures of those parties involved.
One way to tackle interdisciplinary collaborations in the digital humanities is by first honouring that “there are deep cultural differences between the humanities and the sciences” (Real 254). This embedding in different cultures leads to difficulties in understanding each other and needs tending to in order to produce new knowledge collectively. The sociologist Karin Knorr-Cetina speaks of epistemic cultures that make up each discipline: “those amalgams of arrangements and mechanisms—bonded through affinity, necessity, and historical coincidence—which, in a given field, make up how we know what we know” (1). This means that knowledge processes come with epistemic features that create and warrant knowledge in many fields (1). Taking a closer look at how knowledge processes work in different fields highlights that there are various sets of practices, activities, and processes that constitute the respective culture. Because
being a part of a community of practice provides individuals with a common set of tools necessary to carry out their roles. [Among other things], these tools include specialized paradigm(s), [existing] knowledge, routines, artifacts, technologies—as well as perception of these technologies—organizational structures, specialized jargons, methodologies and validity claims. (Kertcher 50)
All these variables are mostly recognized as standard procedures and requirements by members of each professional community and thus determine a shared professional consciousness for understanding, communicating, and collaborating with peers. Besides these different processes within a community, disciplinary boundary practices and institutional boundaries (Kemman, Trading Zones 64) come into play as well. And “because the formal organization of science […] in universities […] usually follows disciplinary boundaries, multidisciplinary collaboration often requires crossing organizational boundaries as well” (Cummings and Kiesler 703). So, there are many aspects that need to be considered when thinking about scholarly cultures and their research procedures.
Turning to practices in the digital humanities, it is obvious that many of the phenomena just mentioned play an important role when collaborating and building interdisciplinary teams with connections to other academic institutions. When working with institutions like libraries, archives, and data centres to jointly tackle questions and problems, collaboration can be even more challenging as many dimensions intersect. So, what exactly does it take to approach each other in interdisciplinary collaborations? Which parameters help to build common ground and a better understanding of each other? There are many dimensions to answer these questions. In the next section three dimensions—disciplinary, project, and systemic gaps—are highlighted. All three aspects play an important role for laying the foundation to later build those bridges that overcome gaps between disciplinary, organizational, and institutional boundaries.
Different research disciplines use different formats, standards, language(s), and best practices to tackle research challenges in each respective field, which is why “different research disciplines have dissimilar practices and priorities” (Happa et al. 1). Biologist Leslie A. Real elaborates that one of the biggest distinctions between the humanities and the sciences lies in the relationship between claims and evidence for doing research. Whereas, “in the humanities, […] a well-articulated claim is taken as prima facie evidence for that claim” (254), the sciences make a clear distinction between the claim and the evidence for the claim: hypothesis versus test (254). This has an impact on how research is carried out and in which rhythms, meaning in which repeating patterns and actions, claims and evidence are brought into relation to each other again.
Various takes and theories on research activities and sequences in DH already exist and consider different models of research,2 such as the scientific method (for a historical take see Henry Cowles), Clara Chu’s research-phases model in literary criticism, John Unsworth’s scholarly primitives, or the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities (TaDiRAH). All approaches try to grasp those parts that make up the different processes of epistemic cultures involved. So, the challenge in interdisciplinary DH knowledge production is how these different takes on research procedures can be made “compatible with each other and whether an inclusive/combined best-practice is practicable” (Happa et al. 1). It is on interdisciplinary teams to spot the differences and balance them out to find a common language, understand formats and standards, and acknowledge those hidden contributions (Real 255) that are not always obvious in different disciplinary cultures.
Another aspect in which different disciplines vary is how projects work. The openness to unexpected results in the research process is always key, but differences in implementing, planning for, and executing research projects and other connected projects (Meise et al. 234) depend on the disciplinary background in which those projects are carried out. Projects are nevertheless an important part of how (interdisciplinary) knowledge is produced, so a common way should be found to deal with these differences. For any variety of project, like research projects, software development projects, or projects to enhance infrastructure or teaching, it is indispensable to understand how projects work and how they are implemented in different disciplines. Everything can be formed in projects, which is why Rolf A. Lundin and Anders Söderholm as early as 1998 coined the term for a “projectified” society (13). In their analysis, they point out that “the definition of projects, the population of projects and their changes are mutually dependent” (13) and thus play an important role in our post-industrial age. Typically, though, there are four characteristics that define a project: a project must have a clear start and end date, it works within boundaries, it is not business as usual, and it always creates something new (Kissflow). “Global phases that consume resources and results in an output” (Zwikael and Smyrk 45 ff.)—like initiation, planning, execution, and outcomes realization—are also part of a project and determine how a team can collaborate in different consecutive and ever recurrent stages.
Scholarly disciplines are equipped with unique dynamics in doing research a certain way that stem from centuries of tradition and still are in continuous development. Many research projects in the arts and humanities rely on only one scholar and can last for decades,3 but there are now many new implementation strategies for systematic and strategic project development (Meise et al. 233) and new ways for such projects to start doing interdisciplinary work. In contrast, research in the sciences has a tradition of working in projects that are closely clocked and completed within short intervals. This does not mean that projects in the sciences cannot exist for decades; it just illustrates that the internal logic of time is a different one. In addition, various influences, such as the logic of third-party funding or technological developments in the digital age, force researchers to adapt to them and plan their time differently. It is again obvious that those “different facets of digital humanities research, such as computer technology and data management [paired with] humanistic inquiry, call for collaboration among experts from different backgrounds” (Kemman “Boundary Practices” 2).
Knowing that projects are influenced by different organizational, disciplinary, and scholarly modes and their culture of doing “research” it is apparent that the ideas and understanding of project culture need to be aligned in order to form a successful collaboration.
Of course, there are many challenges when interdisciplinary collaborations start their joint venture. However, the two differences described here show that there is not only a collaboration gap; there is also “a systemic gap that is rooted in paradigmatic differences across fields of practice” (Kertcher 49). That systemic gap describes the cultural differences in acquiring and producing knowledge in different disciplines and shows that researchers “from different disciplines have usually trained in different departments, have had different advisors, publish in different journals, and attend different conferences” (Cummings and Kiesler 704). For this reason, “their social bonds are likely to be comparatively weak, increasing the difficulty of developing trust and effective interdependence” (704) and making management of interpersonal relationships in interdisciplinary collaborations a challenge. That shows exactly why an approach of moving closer together and understanding each other better is important for creating a dynamic research process. And, as Cummings and Kiesler point out,
[science is dynamic] and although some coordination can be accomplished through project structure, for example, by creating clear lines of authority and division of labor, […] members of the collaboration still must talk out common problems, discuss shared resources, and monitor and review the work to make joint progress. (704)
It is obvious that developing a common basis—or meeting place as it was called before—is essential to form teams that work together. But what exactly is needed to help project teams bridge these various gaps? What support is needed to make interdisciplinary collaboration successful?
There are various ways to help bridge these gaps. One example would be to install in-betweeners or intermediaries who know more than one involved disciplinary language and thus can act as translators (Kertcher 56).4 Another way to move closer together and enable interdisciplinary knowledge production is through the use or development of special technology or interfaces that lead the process of collaboration5 and model examples for standard procedures within the research process. One element that is essential when trying to work collaboratively and join people together is project management, includings its tools and methods. Because “team-working [always] requires the coordination of relatively independent individuals with complex complementary skill sets” (Nandhakumar and Jones 194), different procedures need to be put in place to facilitate collaboration.
Acknowledging the variables of “space, place, distance and time” (Jackson et al. 1) in project contexts is essential in order to plan, manage, and implement a process that works in different environments and with different collaborators. And, although it is always said that “time matters” (1), it has been less well explored compared to all other variables. Yet there needs to be an awareness of work rhythms, because “much of our everyday work (and life) has underlying rhythms that give it structure.” (Begole et al. 334) A closer look into what temporality and rhythm mean for collaboration is thus needed to identify different dimensions and how they can be incorporated in team-based work.
Although up until now a relatively narrow scope of time, temporality, and rhythm have been considered, time in research is as an important resource as any (ID+Lab) and must be handled with care and consideration—especially in interdisciplinary collaborations. One of the most obvious examples might be the conflict between long-term research and short-term funding (Jackson et al. 7), but there are many more relevant aspects when approaching time and temporality in research. The assumptions on which the following considerations are based are the existence of different organizational, personal, and disciplinary notions of time and rhythm. Making room for those differences when planning and executing projects leads to a better understanding among collaborators and to a smoother process overall. However, this is easier said than done, as “temporality in the real world(s) of scientific collaboration and other collective practice rarely shows up in anything like as neat or seamless a form” compared to the “heuristics [that] point to collaborative rhythms in their separate and purified forms” (Jackson et al. 6). There are various rhythms in collaborative work in general and, more specifically, in interdisciplinary ventures in the digital humanities. Acknowledging the “different and fluctuating rhythms [that] are present in collaborative work” (2) can lead to a better mutual understanding.
Not many studies on time and rhythm in collaborative work have been carried out in connection with the humanities, but research in computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) is one field that shows parallels to digital humanities research. CSCW thus serves as a good example for approaching time and rhythm in collaborative work. In 2011, Jackson et al. proposed four temporal registers to create a common basis for team-based projects, aiming for the development of a collaborative rhythm to facilitate interdisciplinary knowledge production: organizational, infrastructural, biographical, and phenomenal rhythms (3 ff.).
Organizational rhythm concerns all “temporal structures embedded in the organizations and institutions that govern and carry out scientific work” (3), such as timing of summer and winter breaks or mandatory requirements of the academic calendar in general. Among them are deadlines or review processes of national funding bodies or the plain distinction between quarter and semester systems in different countries (3–4). This is especially true for teams that collaborate across national borders and who themselves are part of a unique organizational system. As a result, these preconditions already cause the perpetual difficulty of scheduling meetings within interdisciplinary teams, as organizational rhythms can vary on any level from a single department to the whole institution.
Infrastructural rhythm regards the assemblage of equipment and infrastructure that may embed and embody time in significant ways (Jackson et al. 4). Time management and planning for projects with technological requirements is reliant on timeliness of machine artifacts and systems, so that, for example, interoperability and standardization is secured as well as software updates and hardware replacements are run in reasonable distances to secure all cooperative activities. These processes “are shaped at the intersection of social (organizational) and material (infrastructural) orders” (4) and play an important role for collaborative teamwork.
Biographical rhythm describes life choices and circumstances of each individual researcher, such as family planning, illness and recovery, divorces and new relationships, or births and deaths (Jackson et al. 4). Each event influences decisions and the ability to work, so the difference between professional and personal life is sometimes easier or sometimes more difficult to uphold. However, different circumstances have consequences on canonical routes and career positioning, so “shifting roles, identities, and career trajectories are central constituents of biographical rhythm” (4).
Phenomenal rhythm draws on those temporal registers that emanate from objects of study themselves, such as research on event-driven or seasonal occasions, like the 4-year election cycle and its meaning in political science, or the long- versus short-term reactions to larger events in history (Jackson et al. 5 ff.).
All four of these rhythms apply to everyone who is involved in a collaboration, and because the combination can lead to rhythmic disjuncture or dissonance, they pose a huge challenge to always balance out. As this is a frequent and under-examined tension within distributed scientific collaborations, it needs to be carefully considered in which structures research is carried out and how different aspects of temporality come to play in various dimensions of a project.
Another rhythm that is only touched upon marginally in the model of temporal registers by Jackson and his co-authors but helps further develop thoughts on the theory of time is disciplinary rhythm. I thus want to highlight how the understanding of disciplinary rhythm adds another layer of comprehension to planning and working interdisciplinarily. Research cycles vary, and processes, activities, and sequencing of time while doing research sometimes differ significantly across disciplines. So how does one grasp the aspect of disciplinary differences of time, duration, and temporality? How does one plan out and measure time in interdisciplinary collaborations? And not only when thinking about (asynchronous) communication during collaborations (Siemens 36 ff.) but also for various—ideally all—steps in the knowledge production process? For illustration purposes, an example from pop culture serves as a great example to make differences in approaching time and temporality visible: the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent asks what the proper way is to quantify and measure a year. An excerpt from the lyrics reads:
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure? Measure a year? In daylights,
In cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. (Larson)
The song proposes various forms of measurement and juxtaposes two versions of sequencing time: the first one gives an exact amount of time if you take minutes as your unit of measurement (“five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes”) and the second version takes softer and less constant factors of measurement (such as daylights, sunsets, or laughter). This example shows pretty well what is essential in interdisciplinary project-based teamwork: the different approaches to time and their meaning for doing research. This approach impacts, for example, the handling of deadlines or intermediate collective goals in the process. Challenges that are posed by this finding then exist on various levels, especially when trying to align rhythms and allow for “socially-organized [management of time which is] characterized by both significant elements of routine and unexpected interruptions and improvisation” (Nandhakumar and Jones 194). The questions that follow are how does time work for those disciplines involved in digital humanities collaborations and what consequences does that have for working collectively toward a shared goal? When doing research within disciplinary boundaries, time need not necessarily be a problem; however, when disciplines come together and work collaboratively, it is time to allow for more room when thinking about temporality and time “as part of the organizational actors’ ongoing active production and reproduction of their social context” (194). A common understanding of general problems and their solutions regarding time and rhythms supports a project’s structure in a fundamental way and allows for good project time management, which cannot be done well without understanding the different meanings of time inherent in the perceptions of those participating in the project. Temporality and “rhythms [therefore] constitute distributed collective practice, and vice versa” (Jackson et al. 3).
Collaborative research in the digital humanities—as a meeting place for researchers with different backgrounds and experts in manifold fields—serves as an excellent melting pot for challenges that emerge from all four rhythms. But where exactly do they all meet and how can time and ideas be aligned? One way to encounter this challenge is by thinking about the digital humanities as exact humanities. In the 19th century, Jakob Grimm coined the terms “exact” and “inexact science” (Lauer 154) as a way for describing characteristics of research in the humanities and the sciences and how they differ from one another. On the one hand, research in the sciences calls for sharpness of research results; on the other hand, the humanities often have little demand for exactness (Lauer 155). Both approaches have the same value, and in bringing both approaches to doing research and scholarship together, many good characteristics from all fields are applied to producing new knowledge. Through formalization and modelling of research questions and materials, the humanities and the sciences can adapt to each other (Lauer 164) and apply their conceptions of time and temporality in doing research to each new interdisciplinary venture. Temporal alignment of collaborative and disciplinary rhythms can thus not only be achieved through unique ways and individual management skills but also by making implicit knowledge explicit (167). This alignment needs to be “understood as the complex set of actions and activities required to bring otherwise disparate rhythms into heterogeneous and locally workable forms of alliance” (Jackson et al. 8), and it is actionable through more detailed steps that may be more cumbersome and time-consuming but bring great value for collaborative development within these projects.
One conclusion that emerges from closer examination of the challenge with time, temporality, and rhythm is that the alignment of temporal variables is a “strategy and creative activity” (Jackson et al. 8) that should not be underestimated. The goal of interdisciplinary team-based projects is always to combine all temporal registers and align rhythms and research cycles by understanding disciplinary differences of temporality and time. Therefore, project planning and management should include plans that allow all sides to be productive within their individual rhythms while collaborating and benefitting from each other. Those are the tools for enabling exact humanities research and supporting the process of making research more explicit. Consequently, the alignment of research cycles should not be misconstrued as the elimination of different notions of time and temporality within different scholarly disciplines. Rather, it is the result of the worthwhile effort of making visible and actionable the different requirements that can come with different aspects of knowledge production in an interdisciplinary environment, The goal of which is to more sustainably work with the challenges these collaborations entail.
Theorizing and modelling thoughts about collaboration practices is often easier than trying out those models in practice, as every team, every project, and every person is determined by innumerable variables that have not been considered in this one paper. I think that a good way to deal with these unknowns in interdisciplinary collaborations is the idea that the mutual goal is really not to close the collaborative and epistemic gaps within those projects. Rather, we should all be aiming to bridge those gaps by trying to truly understand practices and activities of those (research) cultures and communities of practice involved. The great benefits, including “that we can get more done, embrace a wider range of subjects, and have more fun if we work together rather than require solitary inquiry” (Real 256) outweigh challenges and problems that are faced in knowledge production processes. So, a good way to implement some of the thoughts presented in this paper is to start conversations about working rhythms and time and temporality within all involved disciplines and academic organizations. These conversations can begin with questions like,
Can you identify recurring events in your working cycle? When do they pop up and how do you plan around them?
Are you aware of a working rhythm in your area of research? How many and which results are produced in which intervals?
Are there any mechanisms that would help to synchronize research patterns in our collaboration? Which results are required in which stage?
Having these conversations can lead to a generally better understanding of each stakeholder and their respective perspective and can support better time management from the beginning.
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