African Studies Research: challenges for publication and dissemination

African Studies Research: challenges for publication and dissemination

African Studies Research: challenges for publication and dissemination

The following piece is based on a presentation I gave at the ‘Global Challenges Research Fund: global engagement event’ organised by the British Academy and Research Councils UK on 8 June 2017.[1]

I had offered to say something on the publication of research in humanities and social sciences topics in African studies, and how UK-based academics may ensure their research is accessible in practice wherever it is produced.

I suggested the following points for discussion:

How to deal with the tension between UK Research Excellent Framework (REF)[2] requirements, weighted, still, in favour of high Impact Factor journals, publication by prestigious, usually Northern, University Presses and English-language publication, versus dissemination via local African publications and other media e.g. film, blogs, social media.

Research publication infrastructure in the large majority of African countries (outside of South Africa and Egypt) such as institutional repositories, [3] regularly published peer-reviewed journals and outlets for academic book publication is usually desperately inadequate even for local research needs, let alone ‘large international collaborations’. The African feminist scholar Amina Mama points out that social science production in Africa is largely confined to Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa[4] (perhaps we could add Kenya, Zimbabwe and Ghana).

That sounds extreme perhaps and I do not mean to imply there is ‘no research’ outside these industrialised centres; but rather that the nature of research agendas and publication practices in both metropolitan locations (such as Nairobi, Dakar, South Africa) and in smaller settings (e.g. Niger, Benin, Zambia) needs to be understood and taken into account when planning research and publication.

Of course, book publishers and journals exist in and around many of Africa’s universities; there are independent literary imprints and networks of publishers/journals such as African Journals Online and African Books Collective. Researchers engaging with Africa could figure out routes to supporting such publishers – e.g. via co-written articles/chapters with African scholars; and co-publication of books with African publishers.

On the co-publication of books: there is a history of this in UK African studies, established by the independent James Currey Publishers. Such initiatives can be facilitated via very small grants e.g. £800-£1,500. Working out the details can be time-intensive, however co-publication must be pursued as it has the advantage of disseminating books within relevant local markets at locally affordable prices.

Such initiatives can to be difficult to achieve in practice; there are reasons why they ‘fail’ including the small market for academic books in Africa outside South Africa. The digital era is also tending to work against practices of co-publication as e-rights are usually assigned to Northern publishers with books and journals being distributed by powerful global third-party platforms.

Open Access (OA) is important, in both the South and the North. Using research or OA funds to publish OA in a prestigious well-distributed Northern journal that is available in the global South has the benefit of making research widely available. However, this does little to support publication in the South. Structurally, the practice of Article Processing Charges (known commonly as ‘APCs’) being paid to Northern publishers, ill-affordable outside the best funded UK universities, may be exacerbating the gap between research in the South and North, limiting the chances of Southern scholars to publish. Indian scholar Sukanta Chauduri from Jadvapur University has discussed this.[5] Alternative models and policies from South America may be worth emulating.[6] In African studies, one approach might be to find ways to use funds to support journals and presses in partner universities/countries where research is applicable.

Finally, I want to suggest we articulate ‘an African studies vision for GCRF’: one that considers such questions as I have raised in the context of what, drawing on some of Ambreena Manj’s forthcoming work, might be understood as ‘decolonised research’. Those of us who attended the AHRC International Development Summit yesterday heard Valerie Amos (SOAS, University of London) discuss the ‘decolonised curriculum’, and the need for ‘deep cultural listening in development’. Dr Karen Salt (University of Nottingham) reminded us that colonial histories of dispossession and the correlation between ODA-recipient countries and the British empire need to be taken seriously in thinking about the power-relations and ethics involved in GCRF-funded (or any) research. An Africanist vision could pay attention (i) to the traditions of Africa’s own intellectuals and researchers, and (ii) to the progressive and interdisciplinary orientation of African studies research.

Stephanie Kitchen

Managing Editor, International African Institute

sk111@soas.ac.uk


[1] The (UK) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is distributing around £1.5 billion of Overseas Development Aid (ODA) funding via various ‘delivery partners’ which include the UK Research Councils, the British Academy, the Royal Society, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and other bodies. It is intended to be both ‘researcher-driven’ and contributing to ‘capacity building’ in ODA-recipient countries.

[2] The major tool assessing research done by academics in UK universities; the results of which strongly determine funding outcomes for departments. The requirements of the REF therefore structure academic careers and advancement.

[3] The International African Institute has assembled a list, intended as a resource, of all known repositories in the African continent, and carried out a survey of them. This showed that while there are over 100 repositories in Africa, around half the countries in the continent do not have one at all. See http://www.internationalafricaninstitute.org/repositories.html . Research published in PhD and other types of theses generally remains under-recognised in Africa; repositories may be one route to redressing this. See e.g. Robert Molteno ‘Making Africa’s Intelligentsia Visibile?’, Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa, available at http://www.internationalafricaninstitute.org/downloads/Molteno-Making%20Africa's%20Intelligensia%20Visible.pdf

[4] Amina Mama ‘Is it Ethical to Study Africa?’, https://doi.org/10.1353/arw.2005.0122

[5] See ‘The Academic Book in the South’ report available at https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/booc-v1.1/BOOC/Article/23/

[6] See in particular the initiatives of CLASCO, http://www.clacso.org.ar/acceso_abierto_y_difusion/presentacion.php?s=10&idioma=ing;

also the major Spanish-language Latin-American repository, https://www.redib.org/en/

Crucially these have involved buy-in and support from government agencies supporting research and higher education and have led to a higher rate of publication, as well as wider access to research, in the South American continent than in Africa.