Program Outline

The Global Communities of Practice (GCoPs) framework that we plan to establish in the proposed phase of the project will advance several goals of the Higher Education Program. As we explain at more length in the next section of the proposal, the GCoPs represent a novel learning environment that is intended to move beyond the limitations imposed on graduate education by the structure of the contemporary research university. Several features of the Global Communities of Practice are noteworthy in this regard. First, the GCoPs facilitate collaboration, dialogue and reciprocal exchange of ideas among constituencies that rarely engage in collective conversation. The learning communities that we will create bring graduate students, faculty, underserved communities and development practitioners together in a single process of consultation and co-education. The GCoPs do so in order to cross two sets of boundaries that that impose significant limits on the ability of graduate education to contribute productively to society at large. The first of these is the boundary between the university and the world beyond its borders. The second is the boundary between utilitarian approaches to development and those that recognize the importance of culture and meaning in understanding people’s behavior. While it is anything but unusual for conversations to take place between some of these parties (between graduate students and their advisers, for example), dialogue among them all is rare, indeed. Even rarer are joint conversations that focus on the dilemmas faced by marginalized communities, and the ways that insights from the humanities and the humanistic social sciences might be utilized to address those dilemmas.

Second, the GCoPs foster new approaches to the dissemination of findings outside of the academy. One of the unusual features of our initiative is that it helps graduate students and faculty alike recognize neglected problems and dilemmas, and novel ways drawing upon their interests and their expertise to address those problems. The Global Communities of Practice do so by placing students and faculty in conversation with groups outside of the academy, with whom they generally have little contact. By creating an environment in which academics work with marginalized communities and development practitioners on common problems, we seek to create new outlets for academic knowledge, new ways of employing expertise that otherwise tends to remain caught within the confines of the academy. We also seek to encourage novel collaborations that disseminate findings to new constituencies, toward new ends.

Third, the proposed Global Communities of Practice framework promotes trans-disciplinary research and training. The GCoPs bring together students and faculty from across a broad range of disciplines in the humanities and the qualitative social sciences. During the recently-completed pilot phase of the project, our learning community included students from nine different graduate programs and faculty from at least a half a dozen more. During our seminar discussions it was especially exciting to see participants discuss and debate the dilemmas involved in seeking to cross the academic/applied divide, and the obstacles to problematizing the utilitarian/culture divide. During the next phase of the project we plan to broaden and diversify the conversations that take place within our novel learning communities (as explained in the next section of the proposal).

The Global Communities of Practice framework also promotes transnational research and training. As we detail in more depth in the Project Description section, integral to the GCoPs is ongoing dialogue between graduate student scholars working in different national contexts, all around the globe. This dialogue will be facilitated by an on-line platform, which we introduced to very positive effect during the pilot. This platform will make it possible for graduate student researchers all around the world to use virtual means to join in conversation with Emory-based seminar participants. In this way the global will inform the local and the local will inform the global throughout the entire project.

We will also promote transnational research and training by means of a culminating conference, which we will hold at the conclusion of the project. In addition to having our own, Emory-based students present their findings at this conference, we will also invite a select group of graduate scholars who have participated in the GCoP virtually to do the same. We will ask everyone to focus on what they learned by means of collaborating with their peers across national boundaries, across the boundaries between the academy and the world beyond its borders, and across the boundary between utilitarian approaches to development and those that recognize the importance of culture and meaning in understanding people’s behavior. Having students work on similar problems in different cultural/national settings ensures that students are compelled to think broadly, comparatively and transnationally about the problems they seek to understand. It will ensure that students find it very difficult to take for granted the cultural assumptions that inform the actions and beliefs of constituencies in any one research setting.

Fourth, the GCoP framework is designed to empower graduate students by equipping them with new insights and forms of awareness they need to thrive in today’s increasingly challenging world. There is currently a serious disconnect between the kind of knowledge our universities are organized to produce and the needs of the broader world of which universities are a part. Graduate training has become increasingly narrow, producing scholars who learn, think and communicate in the highly specialized language of their field of expertise. This training defines the traditions and hallmarks of the research doctorate. At the same time, it is difficult for students to develop conceptual or analytical tools different from those of their mentors – tools that are sorely needed to solve today’s complex problems. Many scholars find this frustrating, as do increasing numbers of graduate students. Longstanding boundaries between departments, however, and between the university and the worlds beyond the academy represent powerful obstacles toward change. The proposed GCoP framework is designed to cross over these boundaries.

In sum, the proposed project is intended to promote collaborative, team-based learning that reaches across the boundaries that have isolated universities and academic expertise from the broader world of which they are a part. In the process, we seek to introduce a novel learning environment into higher education that makes it possible for graduate scholars to collaborate with one another and also with partners outside the academy. We also seek to make it possible for these scholars to generate new forms of knowledge. We also seek to create new structures of pedagogy that help groups of collaborators come together across old divides to develop new approaches to the production, dissemination and application of knowledge.

You can find more information about the pilot phase here.