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Free Content Understanding knowledge brokerage and its transformative potential: a Bourdieusian perspective

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Background: Knowledge brokering is promoted as a means of enabling exchange between fields and closer collaboration across institutional boundaries. Yet examples of its success in fostering collaboration and reconfiguring boundaries remain few.

Aims and objectives: We consider the introduction of a dedicated knowledge-brokering role in a partnership across healthcare research and practice, with a view to examining the interaction between knowledge brokers’ location and attributes and the characteristics of the fields across which they work.

Methods: We use qualitative data from a four-year ethnographic study, including observations, interviews, focus groups, reflective diaries and other documentary sources. Our analysis draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual framework.

Findings: In efforts to transform the boundaries between related but disjointed fields, a feature posited as advantageous – knowledge brokers’ liminality – may in practice work to their disadvantage. An unequal partnership between two fields, where the capitals (the resources, relationships, markers of prestige and forms of knowledge) valued in one are privileged over the other, left knowledge brokers without a prior affiliation to either field adrift between the two.

Discussion and conclusions: Lacking legitimacy to act across fields and bridge the gap between them, knowledge brokers are likely to seek to develop their skills on one side of the boundary, focusing on more limited and conservative activities, rather than advance the value of a distinctive array of capitals in mediating between fields. We identify implications for the construction and deployment of knowledge-brokering interventions towards collaborative objectives.


Key messages
  • Knowledge brokers are vaunted as a means of translating knowledge and removing barriers between fields;

  • Their position ‘in between’ fields is important, but their influence in those fields may be limited;

  • Lacking the resources and relationships to work across fields, they may align with only one;

  • Both the structure of fields and the prior knowledge and habitus of brokers will influence knowledge brokerage’s success.
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Keywords: boundary spanner; healthcare; knowledge broker; knowledge translation

Affiliations: 1: University of Leicester, UK 2: University of Cambridge, UK

Appeared or available online: March 30, 2021

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