Collaboration as the Politics of Affect: the Client-Consultant Relationship as an Embodied Moral Practice
This thesis explores the ideology of collaboration from the context of the consultant–client relationship. The ideology is contrasted with the actual experience of collaboration in everyday organizational life, taking a micro-perspective on human interaction. The research question is to ask ourselves what we are doing when we say that we are collaborating with each other. The tendency to collaborate isn’t restricted to the consultant–client relationship; it is expressed in many others, such as the relationship between government and citizen, employer and employee, and teacher and student. The thesis explores its self-evident nature and the reasons for framing relationships as collaborative ones. Collaboration is embedded within a wider development of changing relationships within society that reflect the neoliberal principle of individual autonomy and freedom. Individuals, in the role of citizen, consumer, client or patient, are increasingly becoming responsible for their own lives and the choices they make, with institutions, professionals and managers taking on supportive, ‘therapeutic’ roles. Collaboration emphasizes the equality of the relationship, making it more cordial and intimate, hence masking the power relations that are an inherent part of the relationship and the transfer of responsibilities and risks towards less powerful groups. Taking a micro-perspective on collaboration emphasizes people’s daily interactions and focuses attention on what they are actually doing instead of theorizing about it. Applying the theory of complex responsive processes of relating (Stacey, Griffin and Shaw, 2000) helped me to explore certain aspects of interaction such as power, resistance, politics, emotions, feelings and identity. Taking the perspective of a participant instead of an observer introduced my own actions, emotions and thinking into the narratives that I wrote and stimulated me to reflect upon my own experiences of relating within the events that I describe. In this thesis, I argue that collaboration is an ethical and political practice that consists of a basic cooperative-antagonistic structure. The latter aspect contains experiences of conflict, dissent, struggle and strife that the ideologies of neoliberalism and collaboration obscure because they contradict ideological values of individual autonomy and freedom, equality and self-actualization. In contrast to those values, people’s daily collaborations don’t solely consist of cooperative experiences with peers and managers, but are also filled with struggle, resistance and strife. People reject these unwanted aspects because they generate uncomfortable feelings and emotions, such as anxiety, shame and anger, and threaten the sustenance of their preferred self-identities. I argue that if people accept and include the rejected aspects of collaboration, they gain a richer experience of it and allow themselves to learn by reflecting upon their own experiences. I propose an interpretation of collaboration as an ‘affective ethics’ where people are aware of their mutual responsibilities and the outcomes of the collaboration. Acknowledgement of collaboration as a process of mutual affectation creates the opportunity to evaluate it by exploring people’s ‘lived embodied experience’ (see also the Methodology section) and giving account of the commonalities as well as the differences and dissent that are part of the relationship. Integration of the dissenting elements isn’t guaranteed, however, and reminds us of the pragmatic notion that collaboration as a moral practice emerges out of people’s interactions and can’t be prescribed or enforced. When the consultant and client realize that their interactions make up the collaboration and the assignment, they can go beyond the self-evident notion that collaboration is a function of realizing purpose, thereby releasing the restrictive causality between the two. Becoming aware of the inherent asymmetry of the consultant–client relationship can stimulate the consultant to become more politically and ethically astute in order to create a relationship that acknowledges reciprocity and mutual dependence as inherent parts.
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