Sanne Akkerman and Arthur Bakker

Akkerman and Bakker, analysing boundary work processes in the educational domain, come to define four “dialogical learning mechanisms of boundaries”, which allow to manage them. They are:

  • identification, which is about coming to know what the diverse practices are about in relation to one another
  • coordination, which is about creating cooperative and routinised exchanges between practices
  • reflection, which is about expanding one’s perspectives on the practices
  • transformation, which is about collaboration and co-development of (new) practices.

Each of them is connected to practical processes which are usually put in place for concretely managing the boundary work.

  • Identification mechanisms can be managed, for example, through the process of “othering”, which consists of delineating how one practice differs from another practice. Another process connected to identification is that of legitimising the coexistence of different practices.
  • Coordination mechanisms can be managed in different ways:
    • Creating communicative connections between diverse practices or perspectives, which can be used as boundary objects, i.e., tools which are “plastic” enough to be adapted to the different parties involved in different ways
    • Making a translation between the different “worldviews”, by favouring the establishment of connections between them
    • Enhancing boundary permeability, making the shift from a practice to another or from a physical place to another smooth and without costs (so that, for example, scientists feel at ease both at their lab and in a stakeholder’s venue as well as in making research, participating in decision-making committees, or discussing the possible use of their research with external stakeholders)
    • Favouring routinization, i.e. finding procedures allowing coordination to become part of automatised or operational practices.
  • Reflection mechanisms can be primarily managed through two processes: the perspective making, which consists of making explicit participants’ understanding and knowledge of a particular issue, rendering them more manageable in the boundary process; the perspective taking, which entails favouring people to take into consideration the others’ perspective in their own reflection by a dialogic process.
  • Finally, transformation mechanisms could be actually implemented by activating various processes:
    • The confrontation process with some lack or problem “that forces the intersecting worlds to seriously reconsider their current practices and the interrelations”, even though it may entail a disruption of the current flow of work
    • The recognition of a shared problem space, i.e., recognizing which are the problems and worries that the different involved players share with each other, thus finding a common ground for developing a new common practice
    • The hybridisation process, which implies the definition of new practices combining ingredients from different contexts (for example, decision making practices, tools, signs, words, etc.)
    • The crystallisation process, through which what has been created or learned is crystallised in new objects, routines or procedures
    • The process of maintaining uniqueness of intersecting practices (which is only apparently in opposition to the hybridisation process), allowing the different stakeholders to explore new practices and knowledge without abandoning the precious ones (for example, for researchers, engaging in an interdisciplinary work without abandoning their disciplinary knowledge)
    • The continuous joint work at the boundary, which is required to preserve the productivity of boundary crossing (allowing, for example, to involve new other players).

Mechanisms and processes are summarised in the following table.

Dialogical learning mechanisms Characteristic processes
Identification Othering

Legitimating coexistence

Coordination Communicative connection

Efforts of translation

Increasing boundary permeability


Reflection Perspective making

Perspective taking

Transformation Confrontation

Recognizing shared problem space



Maintaining uniqueness of intersecting practices

Continuous joint work at the boundary


  • Akkerman S.F., Bakker A. (2011) Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects, Review of Educational Research, 81:132