The Privilege to Select. How Social Sciences & Humanities Library Collections in Europe Marginalise Publications from Southeast Africa

Project: Dissertation

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Information Studies


  • Social Systems Theory, Postcolonial Theory, Action Research, Southeast Africa, Scholarly Communication, Bibliometrics, Scientometrics


Research Problem: Like presumably many Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) researchers based in Europe, I rarely come across publications by Southeast African researchers. Some reasons for that are obvious: the--compared to Europe--low number of East African researchers is badly funded, lacking basic infrastructures and access to scholarly information resources. Together with other factors, this leads to a rather low publication output, especially in SSH basic research, which is given lower priority by local and overseas funding bodies than applied research. However, a large part of the literature published under these conditions is hardly covered by bibliographic databases, specifically if it is published on the continent.

Aim and Research Questions: My main aim is to determine if there is a body of scholarship that is neglected virtually everywhere. If so, how is that done, how does talk about "international research" exclude it, although it might be of high quality? What does that tell about how academia works? Is it adequate to talk about a global academic communication system? To which extent then do widely used bibliographic databases cover journals published world-wide, e.g. in Southeast Africa in the field of SSH? Otherwise, how could these near-to-closed regional systems, that will probably be found in this investigation, be described? How can the discoverability of these publications be interpreted from a European perspective? A miscellaneous aim of this thesis is to contribute to a critical view of bibliometrics.

Method: The methodological approach of the thesis is multi-faceted, to approach the research problem from different angles. Firstly, the project sets out with a brief scientometric study on global scale, making use of the mainstream-bibliometric data source, the Web of Science, and picturing the global distribution of SSH researchers with the help of UNESCO data. Secondly, an off-mainstream bibliometric method is applied, which I have named "postcolonial bibliometrics", including the construction of a database with the help of Africabib, Google Scholar and Ulrichsweb. The database is populated with articles and books by a sample of Southeast African researchers in SSH basic research published both in the region and overseas. To interpret the academic success of the indexed work, Google Scholar citation counts are drawn on. Eventually, the discoverability of Africa-published academic literature in Europe also depends on the collection management of European academic libraries. Hence, I include a short survey of collection managers and an analysis of the corresponding libraries' collection policies, to learn if and how policies and/or professional practice undermine the discoverability of the materials in question. All through the project, references to “global" or "international scholarly communication” and similar labels will be collected to contextualise the results from the individual studies of the project.

Theoretical Approach: The global scientometric study, the bibliometric study about Southeast African SSH as well as the survey are self-contained, but at the same time integrated on the levels of theory and interpretation of my analyses. The theoretical and conceptual point of departure is to analyse scholarly communication as a autopoietic social system with global reach (Niklas Luhmann). This understanding is questioned with my empirical studies. Social systems theory also continues a euro-centric intellectual tradition, and therefore can include phenomena as dealt with here only in an undifferentiated space of exclusion from world society. A contrasting theoretical perspective with more sensitivity to the subject is needed, and is best looked for in the spectrum of postcolonial and decolonial theories. Walter Mignolo's concepts "coloniality" and "exteriority" are valuable tools to achieve a better understanding of the apparent global cohesion of scholarly communication.

Coverage: Southeast Africa was selected as a field for this study, because this region is rarely researched in regard to its academic system, which seems to be especially small and isolated. For instance, in all 20 countries together, only 26 journals did suffice my inclusive criteria for the construction of the citation database, with no journals at all in many countries. To analyse citation networks, SSH literature has to be older than five years. I therefore decided to limit the journal articles studied to the publication date 2008-2009. Unfortunately, Africabib includes only basic bibliographic data, so a lot of manual work is required for my study, e.g. to discover author's affiliations. This is also the reason why many steps of the bibliometric study can only be achieved with small samples. The participants in the collection management survey are limited by incipient saturation.

Layman's description

To European social sciences and humanities (SSH) researchers, substantial parts of SSH literature produced worldwide is invisible. On the one hand, for instance, much literature published in Africa is neither indexed in any subject databases, nor acquired by European libraries, a gap unacknowledged by the information profession; and, in consequence, also by SSH researchers worldwide. On the other hand, uncritical talk about an international system of research is omnipresent. Global figures about SSH researcher numbers, and their representation in terms of indexed publications in the main database used for distributing funds and merit, make trenches visible. Opportunities to discover publications authored by Souteast African SSH researchers despite these obstacles will be investigated as a case study. Also included is a short survey of European collection managers and an analysis of the corresponding libraries' collection policies, to learn if and how policies and/or professional practice contribute to the problem. In the light of these studies, is it still adequate to talk about a global academic communication system?
Effective start/end date2015/09/012020/04/30


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