Economic and social sciences have a problem of geographic diversity


In a recent column for Project union, the famous economist Dani Rodrik, wrote:

“The economy is currently going through a period of soul-searching regarding its gender and racial imbalances. Many new initiatives are underway in North America and Western Europe to address these issues. But geographic diversity remains largely absent from the discussion. The economy will not be a truly global discipline until we also resolve this deficit… ”

Rodrik’s point here: particularly on the “under-representation of voices in developing world economics” deserves further reflection and introspection, not only in the context of economists-economists, but also for other social sciences. .

It is true to recognize how instrumental it was for academics like Joseph Stiglitz to work in developing countries like Kenya, where he was “struck by various quirks in the way his local economy operated”.

Stiglitz’s founding theories on “asymmetric information”, for which he later won a Nobel Prize, were essential in shaping his ideas on “the information economy”.

Similarly, Albert O Hirschman’s experience in Nigeria provided him with useful information that shaped his work in Exit, Voice and, Loyalty. Thomas Piketty has something similar to add about his experience of working / being in India and his insights into studying (and understanding) the multidimensional nature of ‘inequality’.

The lived experience of having worked or spent time in a developing country is certainly important. Travel, exposure and collaborative engagements are essential in the complex process of ‘ideation’, of knowledge creation, as well as in its subsequent dissemination. However, the underlying spatial politics of power – its asymmetric focus on those who reside in the Global North also significantly affects / shapes the politics of ‘knowledge diffusion’.

I say this because I have taught – and researched – economics while exploring its interdisciplinary frontiers and applications for ten years, with three regular visiting roles and positions at universities across Canada, Cambodia and the ‘South Africa, my personal lived experience, has taught some of us the instrumental value of’ networking ‘, as a way to bridge the current gap for academics in developing countries in representing their work, while tackling the spatial policy bias of knowledge dissemination.

“Network effects”

The ‘value’ of creating such academic ‘network effects’ goes beyond the credits of greater representation (or being heard) as their vitality extends to many other areas that shape the academic profile and academic qualifications: receiving university scholarships, post-doctoral positions, grant funding possibilities.

For a social scientist working in a developing country without the benefit of such “networks” or contacts established with academics working in North America-Europe-Australia, the chances of seeing a body of original work – regardless of the degree of its novelty – published in a journal (much celebrated in a discipline) is more than difficult.

Worse, as pointed out recently, the degree of hegemonic homogeneity that prevails in the prescriptive use of a certain methodological design for “journal submissions” by editorial teams (and its reviewers – also from the Global North) is deeply rooted in econocentric journals. In a recent scenario, I discussed how difficult it has become for other experimental designs or well-founded “ethnographic” research studies to be accepted for review – and publication – in economic journals.

As Rodrik adds:

“The major economics journals are composed mostly of authors based in a handful of wealthy countries. The guardians of the profession also come from academic and research institutions in these same countries. The absence of voices based in the rest of the world is not just an injustice; it impoverishes the discipline.

Source: Greenspon and Rodrik (2021)

In a recent article, Jacob Greenspon and Dani Rodrik attempted to analyze the paternity location pattern in major economic journals. They base their analysis on the database of Fontana et al (2019), built using information from ISI, the Web of Science and the JSTOR digital library.

Uneven geographic distribution

The database includes 3,222,279 articles, 2,15,203 unique authors and more than ten thousand journals over the period 1985-2016. Fontana et al focus on the geographic diffusion of border knowledge. They provide summary statistics of the geographic distribution of paternity for only the first seven reviews. And because they explore trends in the number of downstream citations, their analysis focuses on articles published up to 2012 only.

They also do not present information disaggregated by country or region beyond the United States, Europe and the rest of the world. Greenspon and Rodrik are able to use their rich dataset to generate additional results of interest, with finer geographic classification and reviews, and longer (newer) time coverage.

Source: Greenspon and Rodrik (2021)

The results presented in the figure above indicate striking imbalances in the geographic distribution of paternity. It is perhaps not surprising that authors from developing countries are grossly under-represented. But what is perhaps more surprising is that their under-representation in economic journals is disproportionate to the weight of their country or region in the global economy.

The share of authors from developing countries in the top 10 journals is significantly lower than the share of their respective regions in global GDP – a gap that is most pronounced for East Asia and South Asia.

While Chinese-based authors have steadily increased their participation in top journals, their representation still falls far short of the country’s share in the global economy, by an order of magnitude (1.5% vs. 16%).

Meanwhile, Western and Northern European writers have made substantial gains, despite the decline in Europe’s relative economic strength. There is therefore only a weak correlation between the evolution of economic resources and access to the best journals.

Financial constraints are not necessarily the main factor preventing geographic diversity. While the experience of Northern and Western Europe is encouraging, it also seems that once networks and hierarchies are established, it becomes difficult to enter them.

“The obsession with classification”

On top of that, in the context of India, private universities, in an increasingly competitive and commodified education market space, are now desperately striving for better / higher ‘institutional rankings’. high, where a proliferated expectation of “research publications in Scopus-type indexed journals” has become the norm.

Institutions are happy to design performance incentives (or give tenure to faculties) on the basis of the publication record within these only “indexed” spaces, which are administered according to the rules of the game by those who are placed. in the Global North.

Higher education institutions with larger publications, journal citations based on ‘impact factor’ surely have a better chance of making it into these rankings (check out the QS World University Rankings or THE World University Rankings metrics for example. ), which also have other evaluation metrics, but performance in the categories “research”, “international reputation”, “scholarships” take precedence in determining the “credibility” of an institution and its academics.

All of this requires compulsive “networking” with academics and institutions in the Global North as a tool for survival and prosperity (not just for individual academics but also for institutions located in the developing world).

The collateral damage of this compulsive “ranking obsession” and “metric fixation” – at least in the higher education landscape in India – can be seen in the least regard to the other essential functioning in a person’s life. academic: the time and energy devoted to “teaching”, “pedagogy”, “curriculum development”, “tutoring” and the pursuit of genuine collaborations, motivated by mutual appreciation for the satisfaction of a larger public good.

Disproportionate access

Yes, some “benchmarking” or a move towards a (quantified) vision of excellence, the development of a strong research capacity is vital for the evolution of an educational institution’s growth (especially more for those in countries where national / state-funded allocations are limited).

Yet the personal and professional struggle involved for academics – living / residing in developing countries – to publish in a certain category of journals, present in a certain group of workshops, to be affiliated with a certain category of ” institutions ”which is part of an attempt to quantify, industrialize a stereotypical approach to“ academic success ”, deserves a broader discussion and political direction. Such an approach, resulting from the asymmetric spatial policy of power, is counterproductive for an organic promotion of creative and original work in / through the social sciences, and in the process of disseminating its knowledge.

It is somewhat heartwarming to see “privileged access” academics like Dani Rodrik, Greenspon et al. Europe is particularly encouraged to share and present their work.

Yet much remains to be done to address the economic – and social science – problems of geographic diversity rooted in the “space politics of power” in academia.

Deepanshu Mohan is Associate Professor and Director, Center for New Economics Studies, Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, OP Jindal Global University.


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