Gaps in current theories. Cross-cultural analyses help fill gaps in several areas of theory. Singled out as a particular case are gaps in our understanding of collaboration or “joint activity”: a conceptual area relevant to problem solving, research practices, and social policy.
Some general points need to be made before I start. The first is the need to ask what is specific to cross-cultural collaboration. Benefits can stem from other forms of collaboration. They may stem, for example, from collaboration across disciplines, between people within a discipline who hold different views, and between researchers and policymakers. We need then to consider what is specific to collaboration across cultural groups and how analyses of cross-cultural collaboration and of collaboration in general can feed into one another.
The second general point is the need to consider collaboration, of any kind, as always between people. It is not “between cultures,” and it is not an abstract or depersonalized process. People bring views about how collaborations and relationships should proceed: views, for example, about benefits, reciprocity, tradeoffs, obligations, the recognition of status, and the kinds of relationships that should apply. Across cultural groups we are especially likely to find variations in such views. Understanding those variations can affect the success of cultural interactions. It can also feed into the general development of theories of obligations and relationships: areas not yet well supplied with studies of expectations in situations where people work together or make decisions together.
The third and last general point has to do with the benefits that challenges or difficulties can bring. Difficulties can bring with them, for example, an awareness of new questions and a second look at practices or assumptions that we usually take for granted. Let me anchor that in a specific example. I am one of a large steering committee that is working toward establishing a longitudinal study of indigenous children in Australia (a study initiated and funded by a government department). The committee itself is a collaborative venture. It is a mixture of indigenous and nonindigenous members, social scientists, and community spokespersons. Beyond the committee is a cadre of people selected as liaison workers with some selected communities (another set of collaborations). We have been in operation for over two years and are experiencing what is now common in research that involves Australian indigenous groups: long delays in what researchers see as “getting started.” That “delay,” however, brings with it a vivid awareness of the need to look more closely at our understanding of several aspects of research, in