Questions from the (geographic) edges

By Rosemary Hancock

What are the ‘edges’ from which the conversations of this conference are taking place? The opening editors panel this morning touched on social, political, and disciplinary edges – but as an Australian academic what struck me was the question posed to Australian-based editor Greg Martin: What does it mean to work from the geographic ‘edge’?

The idea of an Australian sociology has been particularly alive in the Australian academy in the last 15 years: Raewyn Connell – probably one of Australia’s best known sociologists – argues in Southern Theory that the real challenge for those of us working outside the metropole is to develop a sociological theory that is grounded in the cultural and intellectual histories of the place in which we work – not look to sociology from Europe or the USA. But the work of Fran Collyer at the University of Sydney on the global political economy of knowledge production and academic publishing demonstrates how difficult it is for academics working outside Europe or the USA to have this work recognised: the statistics on the geographical skew of academic publishing is breathtaking. Academics working at institutions, and publishing in journals and publishing houses based in Europe and the USA dominate citations globally (see here for one of her papers on this).

Could it be that the project of building an ‘Australian sociology’ is cut off at the knees by the structure of academic publishing? I’ve never tried this, but I imagine that if I were to submit an article to a journal based in the UK or USA that cited only scholarship from Australasia, there is a good chance it would be rejected and that I’d be told I need to send the article to an Australasian journal. But articles appear in Australasian publications featuring only citations from the metropole all the time.

The ECR day yesterday had exciting and provoking discussions about some of the social and political edges in academia – particularly race and the new precariat working within the academy, and the Journal has a clear vision to see beyond disciplinary boundaries. But I wonder what it means for a Journal based in the UK to try to engage with the ‘edges’ of the sociological when the academic publishing industry is so geographically unequal. There are clear pragmatic reasons why the attendees at this conference are overwhelmingly based at UK institutions: it’s a long and expensive journey from Sydney to Newcastle. But those constraints aren’t so relevant to being published in the journal.

When thinking about the geographical edges at this conference I have more questions than answers. Is it possible to have a truly global Journal (or conference) that doesn’t reproduce these inequalities? How do academics in Australia (and New Zealand, and Fiji, and Thailand, and Zambia, and Peru, etc. etc.) avoid perpetuating these global inequalities without isolating ourselves? What responsibility, if any, do journals like Sociological Review have in addressing this geographical inequality?

 

3 thoughts on “Questions from the (geographic) edges

  1. If we want to reflect about what does it mean talking/working from a ‘geographic edge’ the first thing to do is not placing America as equal to the USA. You just denied 34 for countries that are talking from the ‘edges’ or what Mignolo has called ‘border thinking’.

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    1. Absolutely right Sara, the colloqial use of “America” for USA is definitely part of this discussion – thanks for pointing out my unthinking/lazy use of language. Will correct.

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