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Boundary Objects: A Field Guide

Sveta Stoytcheva, Author

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Thinking in terms of boundary objects can be a powerful theoretical lens for understanding complex social interactions, especially those in which separate communities of practice cooperate despite differing, and often conflicting, interests. Even more interesting, and true to life, scenarios to consider are those that involve actors from multiple overlapping social groups interacting with multiple boundary objects - scenarios we would term boundary infrastructures. Also compelling is the question of whether or not boundary objects can be engineered (created with intentionality) or must emerge organically in order to be successful. The creators of FemTechNet took on this question when deciding to make BOTLs an important part of the theoretical underpinnings of their project.  However, as the community and the BOTLs are still in their infancy, it is not yet possible to answer that question definitively in one way or another. 

What ultimately determines how effective boundary objects are, and how useful they prove to be theoretically, is the context in which they are embedded. An analysis of how boundary objects function must be much more than a discussion of how they are differently interpreted. It also requires a nuanced understanding of why they are necessary and how they were created within that specific context. Finally, and understanding of that context would not be complete without a consideration of the power dynamics within that context that ultimately determine the shape a boundary object takes and its usefulness to the social worlds that interact with it. 
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