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Reading these two documents recently I was struck by what now appears as their naivity.
The first report, “Advancing Humanities and Social Sciences Research in Ireland”, published in 2007, sought to make the case for the humanities and social sciences in the context of dominant discourses of the knowledge economy. There was a kind of strategic accommodation here, of accepting the term so f political debate – that is the very idea of the knowledge based economy, and argue the positive case for the humanities and social sciences within the logic of this discourse.
6 years later, the body responsible for coordinating higher education in Ireland produced a report that seems to have come from a more innocent time, particularly when looked at from the post-2008 economic crash. It argued that there was no need for Irish higher education to emulate the UK and tie performance management to crude indicators of research output. Indeed, it argued that it was and should be possible for the arts and humanities to be judged on the basis of the wide array of outputs and not merely those amenable to simple statistical capture or the algorithms of the major publishing companies.
Yet, what we see is our own institutions, in the absence of clear guidance otherwise, reproducing all the known negative effects of the REF.
It is as if our institutional leaders are ignorant of or simply ignore the findings from reviews such as this.
We can view this as a local manifestation of an increasingly globalised model of higher education – of a global political economy of higher education.
Looking across Europe, as with much of the world, we see certain regular systemic features of this political economy:
Government support for increased participation in higher education as part of an economic strategy to maximize the stock of human capital in aid of securing economic competitive advantage in a global economy Reduction in direct funding from governments whilst promoting a process of mass higher education in conjunction with competitive funding streams Government steering of research priorities to meet economic needs, specifically prioritizing certain STEM areas that are perceived to be close to the market – SUCH AS INNOVATION 2020
Our institutions take on the characteristics of what George Ritzer calls non-places as institutional practices homogenise Lacking distincive substance Generic No local ties (international) Timeless Dehumanised relations
We are all fairly familiar with key features of the global higher education landscape as it relates to research selectivity (slide) We can conceive of research selectivity as a site for struggles over external and internal visibility, particularly for semi-peripheral higher education systems and for more peripheral disciplines
EXTERNAL VISIBILITY A defining characteristic of the political economy of higher education is that of STATUS COMPETITION – how well is NUIG doing relative to UCD, how well is UCD doing relative to TCD In other words institutional managers are concerned with visibility within the status economy of higher education. Politicians are concerned about this and gear funding priorities around securing greater visibility in the status economy as well as aligning research to economic requirements.
INTERNAL VISIBILITY Research performance management Management practices that increasingly seek to align individual CVs and research concerns with institutional objectives, objectives aimed at increasing their external visibility PMDS – annual reviews – institutional research audits – etc. This can be particularly intense in what Simon Marginson calls intermediate institutions or semi-peripheral, those that have aspirations to be part of the game but continually struggle to stay in the game
I want to present some of our initial reflections through Niamh’s Story. Niamh is a condensation of three academics who work predominantly through the medium of Irish and who participated in our pilot study. However, while here I focus on Irish language scholarship, they mirror almost exactly the views expressed by the scholars from German studies who also participated. What I share with yo here is obviously tentative, and emergent.
Initial inductive analysis of the pilot project interviews indicates a number of themes/motifs that animate academics’ experiences and concerns:
PRIVATE TROUBLES/PUBLIC ISSUES Although institutional practices of internal research selectivity are systemic in nature, all academics interviewed discussed how they relied upon personal strategies to negotiate the various management techniques. All spoke about the general concern within their fields and the wider discipline but that there had been no collective or solidaristic space to mobilise these concerns as public and systemic issues.
TRANSFORMING DISCIPLINARY PRACTICE It was suggested that the emphasis on research articles as the institutionally privileged output, and links to community groups etc. changed the nature of disciplinary knowledge development and exchange. Specifically it challenged the way a body of work was captured in the production of monographs in the humanities. This was seen as being driven by institutional concern with metrics and not with authentic scholarship.
EPISTEMIC DISJUNCTURE Participants stressed that writing in English was a reduced form of scholarship that did not allow them to fully articulate meaning. Performance against institutionally defined criteria bore no relation to the objective of knowledge production and exchange in knowledge communities. Rather than being additive research selectivity was being experienced as subtractive and diminishing.
As a scholar working predominantly through the medium of Irish, the core ideas that animate Niamh’s scholarship are derived from her relationship with the language as a resource for her thinking, the natural mode of her articulation of her scholarship, and particular linguistic communities – both scholarly and civic.
As such she struggles to work in an authentic fashion, which is captured by this quote,
…publishing what I think is important, where I think it is important..
…where “important” designates this authentic relationship with texts, scholastic exchange, and connection to communities of speakers.
However, Niamh related how she struggled to make herself visible institutionally whilst trying to hold on to an authentic sense of scholarship. There was a powerful sense that despite the pressures on her to co-ordinate her behaviours in particular, institutionally defined ways, she experienced them as private troubles.
This was described, for instance, in terms of constantly being caught between making choices based on her desire to have a meaningful relationship with epistemic communities (which also at times meant publishing in English) and institutionally required performances that were driven by institutional concerns about rankings, etc.
…and you have to make decisions all the time: is it something you want to devote your time to, is it going to be worth your while, will it be regarded in your home institution as being worthy of your time?
She sought personal, individual strategies to negotiate her way through the tensions of an institutionally managed CV on the one hand and being true to herself on the other. There were no collective or solidaristic spaces where these concerns could be mobilised as public issues. She spoke about how the various systems of performance management and audit undermined the capacity of academics to work collectively, and so either rely on individual strategies, or appear supine,
…the system keeps everybody in a constant state of anxiety, trying to meet sometimes reasonable, but often undreasonable targets across so many different arenas of academic activity...
As my colleague Marcin Stanawski put it, we are so busy complying with the Regime of Compliance that we don’t pause for critical reflection and so create the conditions for discussing this as a public issue rather than a personal problem.
There was a very real sense that research performance management, and feeling oneself under the gaze of peformance metrics Niamh managed her efforts so that she was increasing her English language publications, even though she felt this led to a diminished form of scholarship, something with reduced meaning. To make herself more visible to the institution meant making herself less visible to the epistemic communities that gave meaning to her work. This is a zero-sum game. To write more in English means to write less in Irish; to create “balance” is subtractive.
If I was to look at the ratio over the last ten years in my own academic writing life, the balance between writing in Irish and writing in English, writing in English for international academic publishers, and writing and producing material for local publishers, it’s definitiely the direction of English, definitely the pull is towards international publishers rather than Irish publishes; and the presumption there is that it is superior.
The idea of linguistic hierarchies of knowledge, even of which languages can convey knowledge, be knowledgeable is something I will pick up in a moment.
Niamh was concerned about the diminishing of what she called an ecology of research, of an accommodation of a diversity of knowledge practices that gain meaning from an authentic relationship between scholar, epistemic practices, and epistemic communities. This was felt as being simultaneously to be devalued by the institution, and to coerce her to devalue her own values and scholarship,
What I am publishing in English language outlets is a synopsis, a précis, a general overview of the real work I do, published in places with very small readerships which [instiutional managers] completeley devalue and the system compels you to devalue.
Insistence that research outputs be in forms conducive to external performance metrics disrupted the very idea of authentic scholarship in the humanities represented by the monograph as a collection of a body of work rather than a series of atomized performances.
Fundamentally, Niamh felt that research performance management undermined her relationship with epistemic communities, and therefore with both the nature of knowledge and knowledge production. The pressure to publish in certain kinds of English language journals broke the connection between her, meaningful exchange of knowledge, knowledge production, and authentic scholarship.
In other words research performance management as a form of ‘epistemic violence’.
WHAT MIGHT THIS PHENOMENON LOOK LIKE WHEN VIEWED FROM OUTSIDE THE PRIVELEGED CORE OF HIGHER EDUCATION?
Clearly, what we are presenting here relates to wider concerns about
The intensification of academic labour About forms of management practice that devalue and undermine ideas of academic freedom And the privatisation of knowledge that are very closely associated with the dominance of major academic publishers in determining what ‘counts’ as valued knowledge. Lets remember that the various ranking systems and metrics are controlled by profit seeking private companies.
In the guise of technical issues of how best to measure research performance, all justified with recourse to the language of transparency and accountability, I believe we are actually seeing a transformation in what counts as knowledge and knowledge production. However, this is not being done as a result of public debate, not articulated in the public sphere. Maybe this doesn’t matter, but I believe it does, as it concerns what the role of academic scholarship is in relation to human flourishing, and concerns the values by which we think life should or could be lived.
But I want to touch on something in my conclusion that relates specifically to academics working with what are often called minority languages, but also makes sense in relation to large language communities that are made peripheral by a zero sum approach to research performance management as it articulates with the dominance of English. I feel Irish as a critical case study helps illustrate the costs involved.
EPISTEMIC VIOLENCE/EPISTEMICIDE I want to briefly discuss this in relation to concepts derived from the work of Portuguese academic Boaventura de Sousa Santos, specifically the idea that current systems of research performance management act as forms of epistemic dominance and violence, even that the imperialism of certain ideas of what counts as knowledge constitute epistemicide, the death of what Niamh referred to as an ecology of research and Santos calls an ecology of knowledge.
Research selectivity, as I have discussed it here, can be seen to be re-ordering Europe (and I will keep my remarks to Europe) in relation to hierarchies of knowledge Clearly certain domains of knowledge, those deemed applied or close to the market, are privileged over more speculative knowledge practices. This is very much why the humanities is under such pressure, but also whole fields of scientific knowledge and practice But linguistic dimension of this new terrain is illuminating We can see from Niamh’s account that her practice is indeed one of an ecology of research or an ecology of knowledge. She regularly speaks from between Irish and English, both seen as capable of articulating knowledge However, the intense pressure she and her colleagues experience to render their research amenable to only certain audiences and certain forms of publication (where the mode of publication appears to be more important than the rigour of scholarship) works to make invisible Irish as a legitimate language of knowledge, in deed as not being a knowledgeable language in its own right. To different degrees the same can be said of Polish, or Finnish, or Latvian, or Hungarian, or even French and German. So, the Irish language, literature, artefacts can be objects of scientific inquiry, but Irish cannot be a legitimate medium for thinking.
Abdelkebir Khatibi, speaking about the way French dominated Arabic as a legitimate language of knowledge in north Africa, talked about how societies become silenced,
Silenced societies are, of course, societies in which talking and writing take place but which are not heard in the planetary production of knowledge managed from the local histories and local languages of the ‘silencing’ [the dominant powers]
This is not an argument against English as a shared language of scientific exchange, but it is an argument against a diminished ecology of research, and a call to think higher education otherwise, and not to collude in epistemicide.
Research Selectivity and the Destruction of Authentic Scholarship? The View from the (Semi) Periphery
Research Selectivity and the
Destruction of Authentic
Scholarship? The View from the
Simon Warren, NUI Galway
Marcin Starnawski, Dolnośląska Szkoła Wyższa
(University of Lower Silesia)
Marcin Gołębniak, Dolnośląska Szkoła Wyższa
(University of Lower Silesia)
Selection as the
Funding – HEA
• PRIVATE TROUBLES/PUBLIC ISSUES
• TRANSFORMING DISCIPLINARY PRACTICE
• EPISTEMIC VIOLENCE
…publishing what I
think is important,
where I think it is
…and you have to make
decisions all the time: is
it something you want to
devote your time to, is it
going to be worth your
while, will it be regarded
in your home institution
as being worthy of your
…the system keeps
everybody in a constant
state of anxiety,
trying to meet sometimes
reasonable, but often
across so many different
arenas of academic
If I was to look at the ratio over the last ten
years in my own academic writing life, the
balance between writing in Irish and
writing in English, writing in English for
international academic publishers, and
writing and producing material for local
publishers, it’s definitiely the direction of
English, definitely the pull is towards
international publishers rather than Irish
publishes; and the presumption
there is that it is superior.
What I am publishing in English language
outlets is a synopsis, a précis, a general
overview of the real work I do, published in
places with very small readerships which
[instiutional managers] completeley
devalue and the system compels you to
Silenced societies are, of
course, societies in which
talking and writing take place
but which are not heard in the
planetary production of
knowledge managed from the
local histories and local
languages of the ‘silencing’
[the dominant powers]