How International is Academic Knowledge Production?

Projekt: Avhandling



Research Problem: As a social sciences and humanities (SSH) researcher based in Europe, it is rare to come across publications by Southeast African researchers. Some reasons for this are obvious: the -- compared to Europe -- low numbers of Southeast African researchers are badly funde and lack 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 barely covered by bibliographic databases, especially if it is published on the continent. Institutional policies increasingly require researchers globally to publish in "international" journals, draining local infrastructures. The standard-setting power of "Global South" scholars is minimised further.

Aim and Research Questions: My main aim is to render visible how European academic libraries contribute to unjustified neglect of scholarship produced in the "Global South" -- in terms of the globally operating research system. This neglect is explained as consequence of specific crucial features of current world society, referred to as coloniality, social injustice, and quantified communication. The thesis analyses peripherality conceptually and scientometrically: based on a sample, how is Southeast African basic SSH research integrated in global scholarly communication, and how do local dissemination infrastructures develop under these conditions? Finally, how are professional values, specifically neutrality, and workflows of European academic libraries interrelated with these developments?

Methodology: The methodological approach of the thesis is multi-faceted, in order to tackle the research problem from different angles. Firstly, the project analyses the globality of the research system conceptually, as well as its differentiation in "centre/periphery" and "international/local" research. A brief scientometric study on a global scale supplements this analyses by picturing the representation of the global SSH academic workforce in a mainstream citation index. Secondly, an off-mainstream "decolonial" scientometric method is applied, including the construction of a database from multiple sources, sampling publications by Southeast African researchers in SSH basic research, published both locally and outside of the region. Thirdly, the discoverability of Africa-published academic literature in Europe also depends on the collection management of European academic libraries, and its underlying social biases. In addition to a conceptual discussion, a short survey of collection managers and an analysis of the corresponding libraries' collection policies are included.

Theoretical Approach: The theoretical and conceptual point of departure is to analyse scholarly communication as a self-referential social system with global reach (Luhmann). In this thesis, an unorthodox understanding of social systems theory is developed, providing it with cultural humility, inspired by decolonial thinking. The value of the approach lies in its in-built capacity for social change: peripheries are constructed communicatively, and culturally humble communication avoids adding to the accumulation of peripheral references attributed to the "Global South", for instance by suspending the incarceration of area studies which tends to subsume any research from and about Africa as African studies, remote from the core of SSH. While centrality serves the necessary purpose of reducing the overwhelming complexity of global research, communicative centres can just as well be constructed as topical, and do not require a spatial attachment to be functional. Another advantage of this approach is its awareness of different levels of observation, differentiating, for instance, between whether the academic librarian's neutrality is imagined as playing out in interaction with the user (passive neutrality), as representing the diversity of the research system (active neutrality), or as balancing social bias running through society at large, and hence furthering social justice (culturally humble neutrality).

Coverage: Southeast Africa was selected as a field for some of the empirical studies included, because out of all rarely studied local communities to which a peripheral status is commonly attributed, the large majority of Southeast African authors uses English as their primary academic language. This excludes linguistic reasons for the peripheral attribution. To analyse citation networks, SSH literature has to be older than five years. I therefore decided to limit the initial sample of papers from 26 Southeast Africa-published journals to the publication date 2008-2009. The amount of manual work required, e.g., to discover authors' affiliations and full publication lists, and affiliations of citing authors, results in small samples. Europe was selected as the library environment to study because of my own positionality. Furthermore, the major portion of academic library research is focusing on North America, creating a gap. The participants in the collection management survey are limited by incipient saturation.

Populärvetenskaplig beskrivning

I will write compilation thesis:
1. standardised review of the existing studies about my topic,
2. bibliometrical analyses,
3. content analysis of scholarly documents produced by early-stage researchers from the Global South with Western funding,
4. ideas about how standards of knowledge production, set under hegemonic rule, should be overcome to diversify academia.
Gällande start-/slutdatum2015/09/012020/08/19

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Biblioteks- och informationsvetenskap