The Privilege to Select. Global Research System, European Academic Library Collections, and Decolonisation
A large part of the literature published in the ‘Global South’ is barely covered by bibliographic databases. 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. My main aim is to render visible the ways in which European academic libraries contribute to this situation. It is explained as a consequence of specific 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 social sciences and humanities (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?
The methodological approach of the thesis is multi-faceted, including conceptual analyses, scientometrics, and a short survey of collection managers and an analysis of the corresponding libraries' collection policies. The off-mainstream decolonial scientometric approach required the construction of a database from multiple sources. 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 use English as their primary academic language. This excludes linguistic reasons for the peripheral attribution.
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).
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- Book: 978-91-985459-6-8 (ISBN)