VelHam report: Computer-Mediated Cooperation Between Nations in Conflict

Date: Sun, 17 Aug 97 10:51:39 -0500
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Subject: VelHam report: Computer-Mediated Cooperation Between Nations in Conflict

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Original sender: Kirsten Foot  \ Internet:    (

VelHam report: Computer-Mediated Cooperation Between Nations in

 "An Experiment in Computer-Mediated Cooperation Between Nations in Conflict
:  The Velikhov-Hamburg Project 1985-1994", prepared by Dr. Michael Cole at
the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, University of California, San
Diego, 1996, 149 pp.

Summary review by Kirsten Foot, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California,
San Diego, and research assistant on the Velikhov-Hamburg project 1992-1994.

In this report Cole describes a decade of collaborative efforts with Dr.
Alexandra Belyaeva of the Institute of Psychology, Russian Academy of
Sciences on a telecommunication project co-sponsored by David Hamburg,
President of the Carnegie Corporation and Evgenii Velikhov, vice-president
of the Soviet Academy of Sciences at the time of the project's inception.
The project, called VelHam in honor of its sponsors, resulted in the first
demonstration that international telecommunication could be used as a medium
for organizing joint social science research between the U.S. and the Soviet
Union, the establishment of an ongoing research project on children,
computer-mediated communication and education, and the provision of
electronic mail access to dozens of academic institutions and hundreds of
scholars in the former Soviet Union.

The report is divided into two sections.  The first section is a narrative
account of development of the VelHam project between 1985-1991 around
pedagogical issues of cognition and communication.  From the inception of
the project, Cole and Belyaeva strove to make computer-mediated
communication a central, shared tool in their efforts to build a mutually-
beneficial research collaboration.  Given the political atmosphere in both
the U.S. and the Soviet Union during these years, the Soviet economic crisis
, and significant cultural differences--  each of which are described in
this account--  this was a very difficult task.  By the 1990-1991 academic
year, after years of arduous labor, Cole and Belyaeva had established an
ongoing research activity involving two or more groups of children in each
country and their researcher-sponsors who regularly interacted with each
other through a telecommunications channel. By demonstrating that Soviet and
American researchers could cooperate with each other on behalf of children
while addressing significant research questions of interest to both
countries, the core goals of the VelHam project had been achieved.

Due to political change in the Soviet arena, new opportunites arose for the
principal investigators of the VelHam project to pursue more directly their
metagoal: the creation of a virtual community of scientists living in
antagonistic states. Between 1991-1994 Cole and Belyaeva focused their
research on the institutional and interpersonal dynamics of the process by
which a new medium of communication enters into the daily practices and
cultural life of people for whom it is initially alien. The second section
of this report contains a comparative analysis of the introduction of
telecommunications to nine institutions in the humanities and social
sciences division of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  This section of the
report also describes concurrent efforts by Belyaeva to institutionalize
open access e-mail, and to etablish the VeGa International Laboratory as a
research organization dedicated to the promotion and study of scientific
research using new communication technologies.

The results of the VelHam project are significant for any researcher who
collaborates with others via computer networks across political, economic
and cultural boundaries.  The "international norm" of regular, open
scientific communication through the use of e-mail which Cole presupposed in
1985 as the basis for the VelHam project, has been actualized in many places
where previously it had been unthinkable. However, the slow and uneven
development of this norm and its attendant stresses, as detailed in this
report, have also become common to the experience of researchers seeking to
collaborate electronically.  The self-honesty with which Cole shares his
experience of the VelHam project is a significant gift to all who strive for
international scientific cooperation.

**Copies of "An Experiment in Computer-Mediated Cooperation Between Nations
in Conflict" may be requested from Peggy Bengel at the Laboratory of
Comparative Human Cognition <>.   Please include your
full street address.

(Moderator adds: besides others, since 1993 the VelHam project provides
support also for the ethnological monitoring and early warning network
"Ethnic Conflicts in the Former USSR and Their Resolution" - I believe many
subscribers are aware of this network's materials. Maybe somebody of the
network's participants wants to share his/her views about VelHam?   

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