Collaboration and Cooperation

Kristian Kreiner

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Collaboration and cooperation mean working together toward the same end, purpose, or effect. The concepts point at something essential about organizations and, according to March and Simon, it is the delicate conversion of conflict into cooperation that is described by organization theories. Human nature may be characterized by selfishness, as Dawkins saw it in 1969, but selfishly rational actors will under certain circumstances be drawn to collaboration and cooperation. Order hinges on such collaboration and cooperation, for, as Hobbes observed, only such cooperation will overcome the state of nature.
Given this backdrop, it is not surprising that the issues of collaboration and cooperation are ubiquitous. In organization studies, they are sometimes addressed explicitly; more often, however, they are simply implied in other discussions. They appear in a most confusing array of meanings and contexts. Collaboration and cooperation denote multiple forms and processes of interaction, as well as the outcomes of such interaction. Collaboration and cooperation appear both as constructive and harmful, both as legitimate and illegitimate. Such conceptual malleability may question the usefulness of the concepts, but may also testify to the saliency of the underlying phenomena.

In the literature “collaboration” and “cooperation” are most often used interchangeably. In common dictionaries, they help define each other. In scholarly texts, they often add linguistic variation more than semantic nuance, as when Axelrod in 1997 entitled his book The Complexity of Cooperation: Agent-Based Models of Competition and Collaboration. Possibly, however, collaboration appears in contradistinction to competition, and cooperation in contradistinction to conflict, more often than in other combinations. When occasionally made explicitly distinct, collaboration is conceptualized as a higher degree of integration of means and ends than cooperation. For example, Dillenbourgh and colleagues, writing in 1995 in the field of distributed cognition, used “cooperation” to refer to a division of labor that allows individuals to work in isolation while contributing to a common task. “Collaboration,” on the other hand, they used to refer to interactive forms of working together in which the actors mutually calibrate their task performances, an operationlization also followed by Takeda and colleagues. While such distinctions are potentially helpful, they have not yet supplanted the looser tradition in the organization studies literature that implies, in the words of Mintzberg and colleagues, that collaboration means cooperation. In line with this definition, we will use the terms as synonyms below.
Most often, collaboration/cooperation is conceived as a choice of interaction form and a conscious ambition for its outcomes. However, sometimes it is simply an observer's attribution of certain qualities to some case of observed interaction This distinction between perspectives on collaboration/cooperation will begin our discussion below. Next, we will account for the expansion of collaboration/cooperation into new relationships where previously it was not expected to exist, and address the concerns that collaboration/cooperation will infect other types of relationships. This discussion hinges on the expected outcomes of collaboration/cooperation and the literature points to positive as well as negative outcomes. Finally, we will discuss collaboration/cooperation as processes of promotional as well as oppositional interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Organization Studies. Volume 1
EditorsStewart R. Clegg, James R. Bailey
Number of pages7
Place of PublicationThousand Oaks, CA
PublisherSAGE Publications
Publication date2008
Article number69
ISBN (Print)9781412915151
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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