I’m pretty committed to collaborative research. I’m sold on the idea that research should serve the people you work with rather than being driven by elite academic/political/careerist motivations.
What I find really valuable about work on collaborative research is its critical reflection on how, historically, power has been wielded by the academy for its own purposes (or even for the purposes of other less savory institutions) and seeks to redress that by giving power over the research process back to the people academics do research with.
Sometimes, though, when I read stuff about collaborative research it sounds like all the work is being done by the consultants. It can sound like the researcher is nothing more than a glorified archivist and meeting administrator.
But I’m pretty sure there has to be some anthropological work for the researcher to do. Why would people want you to work with them if you brought nothing valuable with you to the project? Surely they could do it themselves?
I am convinced the researcher has to bring something to the project that wouldn’t otherwise be available to the community in order for their work to have any function or purpose. I suspect this ‘something’ might include things like knowledge about other research that has been done in similar contexts, theoretical rigour, experience gathering meaningful data/stories from collaborators, a network of connections to other places of power, and analytical skill.
All of which leaves me with this question: how is it possible for a researcher to bring a valuable set of necessary skills to the research process without creating a power imbalance between themselves and their research collaborators?