A critical realist analysis of working in the middle ground: towards shared understanding and collective action

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The idea of a middle ground between government, industry and the community, as a space of engagement, and the organisation of collective action to address complex social issues is ‘hot property’ to policy makers, social planners and community development professionals, but from very different perspectives. More importantly for social scientists, this middle ground is also where ‘Agency’ meets ‘Structure’, evoking a host of philosophical, theoretical and ethical concerns. Collaborations in this middle ground have been studied from many angles, seeking insight into what makes for ‘successful’ collaboration. However, the most important question remains unanswered. ‘What makes collaboration work?’ or ‘What is the chemistry of collaboration?’ The answer needs to account for the dynamics of disparate groups and individuals coming together to develop shared understandings and reach agreements on collective action and forming social structures that have the capacity to act and to achieve outcomes in their own right. This requires a theoretical framework of the relationship between agency and structure. Choosing a methodology for studying this phenomenon is an important consideration. The risk is that the theoretical orientation one starts out with can influence ones findings, depending on whether agency or structure is assumed as primary. Arguably, a decision to foreground one relegates the other to the background. This thesis explores the challenges of working in the middle ground through a Critical Realist analysis of three unique case studies of working developmentally to address social issues. A particular focus is on endogenous factors, i.e. the perspectives, meanings, values and beliefs individual participants bring to collaborative processes and the role these factors play in the development of shared understandings and collective actions.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


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