Decolonial & Postcolonial Studies of Scholarly Communication

In document The Privilege to Select Global Research System, European Academic Library Collections, and Decolonisation Schmidt, Nora (Page 58-64)

In this thesis, my interest lies in how knowledge is formally dissemin­

ated and made discoverable, rather than in how it is produced.²³ There­

fore, I concentrate on formats of written communication, publishing, and indexing. Dominant practices of structuring, referencing, footnoting, ac­

knowledging, and submitting, compared within the frame of a discipline, have changed very little over the last decades. Neither electronic publish­

ing, nor the alleged inclusion of authors from parts of the world which were not touched by academic publishing in any significant way before, had much, if any, impact on these practices.²⁴

1.5 Decolonial & Postcolonial Studies of

De­ or postcolonial thinking are more or less separate schools that agree on some points, but might prefer to use a different vocabulary. In this thesis, there is no room for a broad introduction and comparison (for a start, see Bhambra 2014b). From my reading, there are three major dif­

ferences: firstly, postcolonial studies are strongly involved institutionally with English studies departments, while decolonial thinking aims at mov­

ing outside the walls of the academy, and bonds with political and cul­

tural activism (see Grosfoguel 2007). This is reflected in the more act­

ive label of ‘decolonising’. Secondly, the origin of postcolonial scholars, mostly in diaspora, is the Middle East and South Asia, while for decolonial thinkers, Latin America is the main point of geographic reference. Thirdly, while postcolonial studies tend to reject research by authors working in the ‘Global North’ tradition, with the exception of Derrida, Foucault, and Gramsci, who are major points of reference, decolonial studies are less fo­

cused on positionings, and more on analyses. Decolonial studies argue for what is often called ‘pluriversality’: breaking up traditional classifications of knowledge, and allowing for contradictions and fragmentation, irritat­

ing the dominant way of thinking with ideas from the margins. Instead of deepening the trenches between privileged and underprivileged ideas that then reproduce the dominant dual construction of concepts, decolon­

isation is more about triggering a gnostic²⁵ evolution by considering the entering of previously marginalised ways of reasoning, letting them meet on equal footing, in order to blur the boundaries between them (see e. g.

Mignolo 2007). The most apparent way in which this thesis breaks with the dominant ways of conducting LIS is in thinking beyond the dogma of

‘patron­centred’ and ‘cost­efficient’ library work. This third difference be­

tween the two approaches seems to be related to their interpretation of how capitalism affects the ‘Global South’. In postcolonial studies, the ‘subaltern’

exist somewhat outside of world society, since they never fully participated in capitalism (Chibber 2014). Decolonial thinking always emphasises that

25 Mignolo refers to Mudimbe 1988 when he introduces his preference for ‘gnosis’ over

‘epistemology’ or ‘philosophy’, seeing it as a superior, more inclusive concept of knowledge, also including doxa; see Mignolo 2000, pp. 10 sq.

modernity is the other side of coloniality; they both rely on each other and both are entangled by the same structures.

The institutional disciplinary background of this thesis is library and in­

formation studies/science(s) (LIS). There are different regional traditions of the field, and for the purpose of this thesis I suggest the following work­

ing definition: LIS is communication research with a special interest in knowledge which shapes the communication while the communication re­

produces the knowledge—in a circular relationship of augmentation. LIS asks how this works under a large variety of circumstances, how it can be improved to the benefit of a specific group of people, or with a cer­

tain common good in mind, since knowledge is occasionally understood as commons (Hess and Ostrom 2007).

The concept of knowledge has been suggested as core of the discipline (Hjørland 1998). In this thesis, knowledge is defined as social, produced communicatively over longer periods of time (see Section 2.1.3). There­

fore, I instead see ‘information’ at the core of the discipline—a very basic concept, since in social systems theory, it is one aspect of all communica­

tion. This makes LIS a very open environment in terms of research subjects, theories and methods, focusing on the informative aspect of communica­

tion, which also comprises ephemeral information.

Documentation is another very central concept in LIS, but it does not en­

compass all of current LIS research, specifically where it is concerned with the institution of the library. In my view (Schmidt 2016c), documenta­

tion denominates the creation of clusters of meaning from knowledge pro­

duction and reception, witnessing a specific event or process of knowledge production and reception. A document, at the same time, has the function of distinguishing the event or process from others, and makes it possible to refer to it later on. In a framework informed by social systems the­

ory, much of LIS applied research is engaged with developing (technical) formats which enhance this function, and which make it more likely that society can have this social memory at its disposal. The creation of clusters of meaning is inherently political, instructed by power and privilege, and so is their preservation and the management of access to them.

Within this broader field of LIS, scholarly communication is a research area which other fields also contribute to, e. g. science & technology studies (STS) and the philosophy of science. Before I define in detail in Chapter 2 what the concept of scholarly communication contains in this thesis, Figure 1 is intended to relate the concept to some of its neighbours, and therefore to facilitate grasping some of its meaning. There certainly are limits to this type of concept visualisation; the size of the bubbles is not intended to dis­

play relevance, but rather it is the intersections that are crucial. In this view, scholarly communication includes all research activities, since they always relate to activities that qualified as research earlier. This ‘interaction’ makes those activities communicative. However, not all the activities that are in some way related to scholarly communication would qualify for the label of scholarly communication. I am referring to the bubbles in the figure that are positioned halfway outside the scholarly communication bubble.

In this realm, students are graded, lab equipment is produced, accounting takes place, and a lot of coffee is drunk—none of this is scholarly commu­

nication. Especially interesting in the context of this thesis are the library and publishing bubbles. Much of the work that librarians and publishers do, and that will be discussed in the following, is not scholarly commu­

nication in itself, but rather its observation from the outside. Those ob­

servations can have an impact on the scholarly communication system. In social systems theory, the drawing of these distinctions—or crossing the border—that happens when communicative operations of a system refer to the system’s environment is of high importance: these operations actu­

ally are the system. Operations and observations, taking system­specific structures into account, render the system. Structures only ever become palpable indirectly through operation and observation.

Speaking more generally about research interests in the area of scholarly communication studies, this can be expressed within LIS as follows: how are corpora of academic knowledge differentiated and (re­)produced and how are they observed and reflected on by different communities? This question implies a viewing direction from the abstract knowledge to the social formations. STS, as a subfield of sociology, would generally prefer

Scholarly Communication

Academic Publishing

“Doing Research”

Research Infra-structure Conferences

(Informal) Peer-to-Peer


Higher Ed ucation Teaching &


Research Data

Research Blogging, Tweeting etc.

Figure 1. Scholarly communication in its conceptual context.

an inverted viewing direction.²⁶ Of course, this does not imply that social formations and contributions by people are not subjects of study in LIS.

Rather, it widens the available means of research—these include the ‘epi­

centers of quantification’ (Buckland 2012), bibliometrics and information retrieval—and allows extensive opportunities for triangulation.

In my view, the research area of scholarly communication in LIS covers the following interconnected sub­areas of research:

1. Theoretical considerations about what a scholarly document is and which role it plays in academic communication and practices. This strand relates to the philosophy and sociology of science. Not only the different classical formats of publications are dealt with, but also research data, blogs, science communication addressed to the wider public, and lab notes. Focus can lie, e. g., on the author’s role, the internal structure of communication formats, location (of authors and publishers), language, careers, or audiences.

2. Description, discussion and requirements analysis of technical in­

frastructures supporting the scholarly communication system, and exploration of obstacles to their further development. These are of­

26 Stöckelová 2012 raised the critique that the ‘convention in STS of positioning the (Western) lab as the central object of study’ further strengthened the dominant distorted representation of ‘globally excellent science’.

ten found in solid functional structures of the research system, like certain social values and communication formats, furthering a slow adoption of newly developed tools (see e. g. Borgman 2007).²⁷ 3. Measurement and statistical analysis of academic knowledge pro­

duction and reception, also referred to as scientometrics. In the sub­area of bibliometrics, bibliographical data and their interconnec­

tions through citations serve as main materials. These can provide a starting point for discourse analysis, and also for a large variety of other observations such as cooperative structures in scholarly com­

munication or the mobility of researchers.

4. Evaluation of inclusion criteria for academic databases, development of indicators for quality assessments or the general evaluation of aca­

demic institutions.

5. Description and discussion of legal, economic, political, and disci­

pline­based aspects of publishing and the publishing industry.

It will be increasingly clear from the following that the problems I deal with here, more or less, touch upon each of the mentioned areas of scholarly communication research in LIS.

Has a strong decolonial or postcolonial perspective been applied to those areas before? Khanal, who searched Library, Information Science & Techno­

logy Abstracts (LISTA) and Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA) databases for this ‘postcolonial critical lens’ in 2011, could only discover

‘a handful of academic articles’ (Khanal 2012). In 2017, a keyword query for ‘postcolonial*’ (or ‘post­colonial*’) or ‘decolonial*’ in academic journals and proceedings (books are not included in the databases) returns around seventy hits in each of the two overlapping databases, while most of the pa­

pers tackle archive and library development in postcolonial countries. In less than a handful of these hits is the core topic scholarly communication.

This does not mean that there is no research that follows the motivation

27 Sometimes, this kind of research does not shy from a very normative position when, for instance, Palmer and Cragin 2009 state that the ‘information practices approach offers empirical means for interrogating how scholarly information resources and tools can best support researchers’ activities and goals’.

I just described, but rather that, firstly, it is not indexed in those ‘Global North’ LIS subject databases (there are no alternatives), and/or secondly, it does not link itself clearly to decolonial or postcolonial studies. Post­ or decolonial studies of academic publishing are scarce in the fields that fo­

cus on academic knowledge production, reception and documentation.²⁸ The bulk of the literature I refer to in this thesis, with the exception of Chapter 5, is therefore not home to these fields, but rather to wider soci­

ology and human geography. My literature research is problem­oriented, not discipline­oriented.

In document The Privilege to Select Global Research System, European Academic Library Collections, and Decolonisation Schmidt, Nora (Page 58-64)