Posts tagged ‘Internationalization’

Some Possible Anthropological Futures: WCAA vs. SSCI

By Gordon Mathews

 

It’s become increasingly recognized that the world has multiple anthropologies—that anthropology is not only a Euro-American endeavor but a global endeavor.

 

One reason why this is happening is technological.  When I left graduate school twenty years ago, moving from the United States to Hong Kong, I was warned by well-meaning American anthropology professors that being overseas could drastically curtail my career.  But shortly thereafter, the internet and e-mail emerged.  Problems of access remain; but it seems clear that scholarly knowledge in anthropology has become far more globally accessible, with libraries increasingly being replaced by lone terminals’ internet connections.

 

A second reason why this is taking place is economic.  Anthropology in a given country follows, at a certain distance, that country’s GDP and per capita income.  Rich countries can afford anthropology, particularly anthropology beyond one’s own country’s borders; poor countries can’t. Throughout much of the twentieth century, American, Western European, and Japanese anthropologists traveled the globe to do their fieldwork, while most countries practiced anthropology within their own borders, lacking the financial backing to go elsewhere. But today, an increasing number of countries throughout the world are beginning to practice anthropology beyond their borders.  Beyond this, academic positions in anthropology are diminishing at American and Western European Universities, with newly minted Ph.Ds increasingly unable to find jobs; the situation is better elsewhere in the world, particularly in East Asia.  Current trends point to an increasing diminishment of Anglo-American anthropology, with a shift of gravity towards Asia.

 

These factors point to a global anthropological future.  Technology levels the playing field of world anthropologies; economics shifts the balance of the playing field. But in a different sense, globalization has rigidified the playing field, preserving the status quo.

 

A major factor shaping universities has been their increasing awareness of global competition.  World university rankings, such as that of the Times Education Supplement, have become increasingly influential, and university administrators in many societies base their professional lives on enabling their institutions to rise a few places in these rankings.  One key factor in these rankings is the publication output of an institution’s professors.

 

This output is typically measured by the quality of the journals that professors publish in, a quality measured by such markers as the Social Science Citation Index.  Only journals are cited in the SSCI; the fact that anthropologists often publish books and chapters in edited books is beside the point in administrators’ arguments—since book impacts cannot be so easily measured, journals become all-important, distorting anthropology.  As an editor of a journal, Asian Anthropology, I am constantly asked by potential contributors in China, Japan, and India and elsewhere whether it is in the Social Science Citation Index.  If it is, it counts; if it is not, then it does not.  To anthropologists in these and many other societies, the SSCI is a major indicator of worth.  With SSCI publication, a scholar may obtain financial rewards; without it, you may lose your job.

 

The SSCI is heavily tilted towards Anglo-American publications.  Of 81 journals listed by SSCI under anthropology, 36 have publishers based in the United States and 19 have publishers based in the United Kingdom. Another 10 are based in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and 3 are from Australia, all countries heavily influenced by Anglo-American anthropology. 76 of 81 total publications, 94% of the total come from the United States, the United Kingdom, Western or Central Europe, or Australia/New Zealand.

 

Anthropology is not singular: there are multiple anthropologies across the globe. Nonetheless, as the above statistics imply, anthropologists from societies around the globe may have little choice but to publish in Anglo-American journals that have little or no interest in the anthropology of their home societies; they are, in effect, forced to become Anglo-American in their anthropological concerns. Anthropology has long since transcended Morgan and Tylor intellectually; but institutionally Morgan and Tylor and their world are being recreated: “The West is Best!”

 

There are thus two opposing currents shaping contemporary anthropology, one current moving towards the globalization of anthropology, and the other towards its Anglo-Americanization.  Which of these will win out?  I see it as inevitable that intellectually anthropology will move towards greater globalization.  But universities everywhere are becoming managerialized, and this means that anthropology will be forced to become more Western-centric, and Anglo-American-centric

 

But we can do something to solve this problem.  Journals’ inclusion and ranking within the Social Science Citation Index is determined in part by impact factor—how much are articles in a given journal cited?  The SSCI is thus not an unchanging wall, but is something that we ourselves create through our collective citations.  Now that we are entering an era of the increasing influence of multiple global anthropologies, the strategy to be followed seems clear: cite your own anthropological authors; don’t rely on Western theorists as the basis of your writing.  At present, there remains to some extent a herd mentality among peripheral anthropologies, very often quoting Western dominant intellectual figures as a legitimating device.  This needs to be transcended

 

Initially, anthropologists who buck this trend may suffer from rejection, but eventually the tide will turn if non-Western anthropologists are willing to take up the challenge.  This challenge can’t simply involve non-Anglo-American anthropologies turning their back on Anglo-American anthropologies.  But it can more fully engage Anglo-American anthropologies with the intellectual resources of other anthropologies, in such a way that Anglo-American anthropologies will have to accept a broader basis for what anthropology consists of.  And if this can happen, the winner will be not simply one faction of anthropology, but all the world’s anthropologies.

 

In this way, the conflict between the globalization of anthropology and the Anglo-Americanization of anthropology—the conflict of symbolic acronyms between WCAA and SSCI—will be resolved.  This may be a long, slow process, but if anthropology is to survive as a discipline rather than as an historical relic, it is necessary and inevitable.

 

Add comment September 14, 2013

How Can Anthropologists Break Free of Citation Indexes?

All over the world today, we see anthropologists struggling to publish in journals that are ranked highly on global citation indexes. Not every anthropologist in the world has to do this yet, but increasingly anthropologists from East Asia to Eastern Europe to Australia to Latin America are pressured in this way. One problem with this pressure is that the overwhelming majority of journals ranked highly on the global citation indexes are Anglo-American. These are often excellent journals. Still, global anthropologists are thereby in effect sucked back into the realm of Morgan and Tylor: “The West is Best! Conform to its standards or lose your job!”

Is there any way to escape this tyranny of citation indexes? In an immediate sense, no: if your job is on the line, then by all means do your best to publish in these journals, since the alternative may be driving a taxi or starving. From a longer view, though, there are indeed alternatives.

One alternative, if your native language is not English, is to have parallel writing tracks: write the stuff you need for your career in English, for the international journals, and write the stuff that is closest to your heart in your native language. As a Hong Kong ethnographer once told me, “I write articles in English that help my scholarly career but that no one reads; I write books in Chinese that many people read, but that have no relation to my scholarly career….At the end of the day, if I don’t have any journal publications with high impact factors, so what? If people in Hong Kong still read and learn from my writings, I’ll happily close my eyes and go to heaven.”

A second alternative is to write books rather than articles. Books are refereed in a different way than articles: if you can write only 8000 words, then you’ve generally got to conform to Western standards if you seek to publish in the Anglo-American core, but if you write books of 80,000 words, you’ll probably be given more leeway by referees to develop your own arguments and present your own ethnography in full. In our citation-index-driven anthropological world of today, books don’t count as much as articles, but they are read, and may allow you the freedom to be yourself. This is apparent in the books of Scandinavian anthropologists such as Ulf Hannerz and Thomas Hyland Eriksen, who have made their names largely through books published in the Anglo-American core.

A third alternative is more radical: forget about the pressures to write in top-ranked journals, and put yourself on line. Today there are some excellent websites where you can place your work to be read by other anthropologists, websites such as academia.edu and researchgate.edu, among others. Many anthropologists place their previously published work on these sites; but these sites can also be used to forego the publishing process altogether: put your work online instead of at the mercy of a journal. Perhaps the critiques you will receive from on-line readers will be more intellectually trenchant than those you might receive from referees! Don’t take this step if your career is on the line, for it may be suicidal. But if you can afford to, jump in.

Eventually, the world of anthropological publishing, as now driven by citation indexes, will collapse: we will all be on-line. That step will be the single most important step for the creation of a global anthropology. I suspect that won’t come for another twenty or thirty years, though. Meanwhile, let’s all do as much as we can to help erode the power of global citation indexes, which are in effect Morgan and Tylor risen from the dead.

 

Gordon Mathews
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

7 comments April 12, 2012

International English

Another point brought up at the American Anthropological Association meeting of worldwide journal publishers concerned writing, with several journal editors advocating “international English.”  This sounds wonderful in principle.  If every anthropological writer were to write in easy-to-understand English, then the anthropological playing field would be largely leveled, with native speakers and non-native speakers on a more even standing.

 

However, in all honesty, how many native speakers of English would be willing to write in international English, curtailing their jargon, limiting their circumlocutions, and simplifying their sentence structures?  American academics, not least anthropologists, have a mortal fear of sounding stupid.  One reason why anthropological writing is so often convoluted is to avoid revealing the relatively simple ideas one may be expressing—to avoid sounding stupid.  In some English-language anthropological writing, linguistic complexity is necessary, given the subtlety of the ideas being expressed.  In much more anthropological writing, the complexity seems unnecessary.  Complexity may reflect the fact that the authors are bad writers. Or it may reflect an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, whereby authors cloak ideas in impenetrable prose because those ideas themselves are unclear, or else all too clear.

If anthropology journals were to mandate that writers write in a standard international English—something that has happened to a degree in medicine and in the hard sciences—the problem of anthropology’s lack of true globality would largely be solved.  However, it is hard to imagine this happening.  Instead, it seems more likely that a two-tiered class structure would emerge, of Americans and other native speakers writing in complex English, and foreign scholars writing in “international English.”

 

Ideally, international English might liberate American anthropology from its rhetorical excesses (a tendency I date from Geertz: earlier writers like Benedict and Boas, read retrospectively, are marvels of clarity).  More likely, it would simply serve as a form of academic distinction.  Those who can write in a complicated way will, and those who can’t won’t—but with only the latter being fully comprehended by many of their readers.

 

Gordon Mathews

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

1 comment December 14, 2011

The Internationalization of American Anthropological Journals

At the American Anthropological Association meeting in Montrealin November, I was heartened to see how much major American journals are internationalizing.  The Editorial Boards of American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology, to name just two journals, increasingly bear the names of anthropologists from across the world.  Of course this is a very good thing.  But at the same time, that’s the easy part.  The hard part of internationalizing anthropology is to make the content of these journals international.

 

This is problematic because of one simple fact.  Anthropology is not the same in different places.  What constitutes a good anthropology article for Americans is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a good anthropology article for Japanese, or for Indians, or for Brazilians, or for Eastern Europeans.  This can be seen by reading the different flagship journals in different societies: this is one thing that our publication list on the WCAA website reveals.  The topics, the approach, and the writing style of these different anthropologies significantly differ.

 

So, if American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology and other top American journals seek to internationalize, will they publish foreign anthropologists only to the extent that their articles are couched in American discursive terms, reading like American anthropology articles?  This will in effect render these different anthropologists American.  Or will they publish these articles even if they are not discursively American—not addressing American anthropological concerns, and not following the norms of American argumentation?  This runs the risk of alienating these journals’ largely American audiences.  Because anthropology is not the same the world over, there seems to be no way beyond this dilemma.

 

Some journals in the United States will probably remain unaware of this dilemma, implicitly assuming that American standards of anthropology are universal standards of anthropology, and publishing accordingly.  Other journals will indeed understand; but there’s no obvious way out.  These journals may attempt to take a middle line, both preserving standards and encouraging diversity.  But where and how, exactly, is that line to be drawn?

 

In short, the era of internationalizing anthropology is only beginning.  It will be a lot more difficult than most anthropology journal editors, and most anthropologists, now may realize. To repeat a refrain I’ve often stated, anthropology must leave the era of Morgan and Tylor, with anthropologists from rich countries studying cultures from poor countries, and dominating the discipline, to become instead a truly global discipline.  That day will come, eventually; but it certainly won’t be easy.

 

Gordon Mathews

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

29 comments November 27, 2011


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