This series on power dynamics of global knowledge production reflects on contestations over how knowledge and power are defined, distributed, and denied in the field of African Studies. It aims to raise ‘questions of access and opportunity routinely elided from – but integral to – formal academic discourse. These questions are not new. Rather, they remain at the forefront of our academic and professional enterprise, and underpin the legitimacy of our diverse endeavours’ (Marks and Kessi).
The positioning of academic journals is not neutral: their engagement with the Global South is characterised by several levels of uneven participation, among them thematic scope, acceptance rates and perceived impact.
Academic journals operate within a discourse in which “international” really means “global north”. This paradigm is reinforced by the reliance on the ISI Impact Factor, leading to a situation in which researchers from the Global South must tailor their research to be of interest to high impact journals serving Northern research agendas. At the same time, development imperatives and government policies pressure researchers to undertake research relevant to local problems which may not be “international in scope” or “academic” enough to interest the international journals (Czerniewicz). As Nyamnjoh noted, ‘African scholars face a critical choice between sacrificing relevance for recognition, or recognition for relevance’.
However, even journals specialising in African Studies, such as the two of the top English-language journals, African Affairs (AA) and the Journal of Modern African Studies (JMAS), have seen a general decline in the number of articles published by Africa-based scholars over a 21-year period (1993-2013). While article submissions from Africa-based scholars have increased for these two Europe-based journals, acceptance rates have declined significantly (Briggs and Weathers).
African-based journals generally do not have a high Impact Factor, if they have one at all. This is in part because inclusion of journals in the Web of Science, one of the most prestigious citation databases, is not based on objective criteria. The country, language, and discipline of a journal influence the probability of inclusion, regardless of its editorial quality or scientific impact (Chavarro and Ràfols). For example, with regards to Latin American peer reviewed journals; only 4% were included in the 2012 Web of Science index, according to Juan Pablo Alperin’s calculations (just 242 out of over 5,000 titles). That’s an enormous body of peer reviewed Southern research ‘which simply never gets counted’ (Harle and Cumming).
This has led to a situation in which, according to Pailey, ‘Africans have always produced knowledge about Africa, even though their contributions have been “preferably unheard” in some cases and “deliberately silenced” in others’.