Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 198-207

First online:

Sometimes One is More Than Two: When Collaboration Inhibits Knowledge Construction

  • Aaro ToomelaAffiliated withFaculty of Education, University of Tartu Email author 

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In this paper I suggest that to better understand knowledge construction in science, and the role of social processes and collaboration in it, it is useful to distinguish between “elaborative knowledge” and “emergent knowledge.” Elaborative knowledge is constructed for solving clearly defined problems in established theoretical frameworks, and emergent knowledge refers to the knowledge constructed to reach a hierarchically higher and more complex level of scientific understanding. There are also two types of collaboration. On the one hand there is “dialogical collaboration” in which team members contribute to reaching the common clearly defined objective so that a team as a whole becomes qualitatively more complex than its members alone. On the other hand there is “unidirectional collaboration” where the result of collaboration is determined by one person, should be distinguished. There is evidence from multiple perspectives indicating that “elaborative knowledge” can be developed in both kinds of collaboration and sometimes ‘dialogical collaboration” is necessary for knowledge construction. However, for building “emergent knowledge,” it is argued, only individual or “unidirectional collaboration” is productive, and “dialogical collaboration” can hinder or even prevent the construction of this kind of knowledge.


Collaboration Dialogical Knowledge Methodology Elaborative knowledge Emergent knowledge