Sign in or register
for additional privileges

Boundary Objects: A Field Guide

Sveta Stoytcheva, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

The Boundaries of Boundary Objects (cont'd.)

Considering the specific sociohistorical contexts in which boundary objects are embedded reminds us of two very important points. Firstly, no boundary object can be universally useful. A boundary object facilitates collaboration between members of two (or more) communities of practice. However, there is no guarantee that it will be able to bridge the gap between those social worlds and a third (or fourth, etc). Additionally, something will not necessarily continue to function as a boundary object over time. As the information and work requirements of the individuals involved change (or as the relations between the communities of practice evolve) new boundary objects may become necessary to supplement and replace old ones. In fact, Star imagines a cyclical model in which existing boundary objects become standards while new boundary objects are formed to navigate the “residual categories” of practices that are not encompassed by existing standards (Star, 2010, p. 615). 

Finally, because boundary objects are embedded in very particular social contexts, they are also located at the nexus of very specific relations of power. That is to say, boundary objects can never be neutral. Bowker and Star point out that the concept of boundary objects is only applicable in contexts of relative equality. For example, standards of weights and measures imposed by colonial regimes are not considered boundary objects (Bowker and Star, 1999). However, even in contexts where power is more evenly distributed, boundary objects are not neutral. Isto Huvila (2011) examines the process of creating archaeological reports to argue that “the creation or reshaping of a boundary object is always an attempt to make a hegemonic intervention” (ibid, p. 2536). Of course, the degree to which this is the case varies depending on the context, but it is important to keep power relations in mind when thinking about how an idea or artifact can function as a boundary object.
Comment on this page

Discussion of "The Boundaries of Boundary Objects (cont'd.)"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Part I: What is a Boundary Object?, page 5 of 8 Next page on path