Gorman advocates sustained interaction between actors with diverse expertise can lead to a greater capacity to establish a common understanding of a goal.
Gorman is concerned with constructing models to help scholars think about collaboration across domains of expertise in order to facilitate “multidisciplinary collaboration” on large-scale, complex projects like Earth System Engineering Management.
Gorman uses numerous STS concepts including “black boxes” and “Actor-networks” (Gorman Mehalick 2003), “boundary objects” coming out of social worlds theory and symbolic interactionism (Bowker and Star 1999), “expertise” (Collins and Evans 2002), and “trading zones” (Galison 1997).
Despite claiming to have been the first to combine Galison’s concept of “trading zone” with that of Star’s “boundary object,” Gorman seems to be privileging a consensus model, which is the exact model that boundary objects were intended to obviate. To what extent can “adversarial” relationships in research be productive?
If one considers a domain of “expertise” to be loosely akin to an epistemic culture, Gorman seems to think that actors with diverse expertise are necessary for addressing the complex techno-scientific problems of the contemporary. He seems to be arguing that, through sustained interaction and the “right” attitude, these actors will be able to attain “a common understanding of a goal and collaborate closely” (Gorman 2002, 934).
Gorman constructs a continuum of “collaborativity” (my word) that corresponds with three basic types of trading zones:
“The first is a network controlled by an ´elite in which there really is no trade: those not in the ´elite either obey, or they are ignored. …The second is a boundary-object trading zone, where experts from different fields interact around the development of a technology or system – like radar or MRI. Here the system of concern serves as an object that links the participants in the network, but experts from different fields see the boundary object in ways dictated by their expertise. … Contributory expertise brings us to the third kind of trading zone, in which the participants share a common understanding of a goal and collaborate closely. In the parlance of cognitive science, they must share a continually evolving representation of a techno-social system that would normally serve as a boundary object” (Gorman 2002, 934).