Original Research

Research collaboration in asymmetric power relations: A study of postgraduate students’ views

Judy van Biljon, Samwel Mwapwele
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 19, No 1 | a1288 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v19i1.1288 | © 2023 Judy van Biljon, Samwel Mwapwele | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 August 2022 | Published: 16 February 2023

About the author(s)

Judy van Biljon, Department of Information Systems, College of Science, Engineering and Technology, University of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
Samwel Mwapwele, Department of Information Systems, College of Science, Engineering and Technology, University of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa


Collaboration among researchers and across disciplinary, organisational and cultural boundaries is essential for addressing the increasingly complex challenges and opportunities facing international development. Despite the known advantages and various incentives, research collaboration within Africa (specifically within South Africa) is lacking. To better understand the reasons for this lack of research collaboration, this study explored collaboration between students and supervisors in an information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) postgraduate student project in South Africa. South Africa, a country with major social inequalities and asymmetric power relations, provides an appropriate context. The students’ perspectives provided a space for investigating the collaboration factors by unpacking the capability inputs according to Robeyns’ representation of personal capabilities. Data were captured from a survey and focus groups (FG) with students and supervisors in ICT4D from different universities in South Africa. Thematic analysis was used to identify and link the participants’ expectations of research collaboration with their perceptions of the challenges of such collaborations. The contribution is a conceptualisation of the main components representing research collaboration viewed in terms of personal capabilities, including the factors that influence collaboration.

Transdisciplinarity contribution: Research collaboration is fundamental to promoting multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary research. The novelty of this study lies in applying a theoretical lens from the field of human development to explore research collaboration in the transdisciplinary field of ICT4D. Given the research application context and the theoretical lens applied, the findings have implications for initiatives and policies on funding transdisciplinary research collaboration.


Research collaboration; capabilities; conversion factors; ICT4D, postgraduate students.


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