P004 – Publish or Perish in African Studies: New Ways to Valorize Research
8 July, 14:00-15:30

Bergenthum Hartmut / Africa Department, University Library Frankfurt/Main
Kitchen Stephanie / International African Institute (IAI), London


Academic researchers in African Studies have a multitude of possibilities for publishing their findings: peer-reviewed and Open Access journals, institutional repositories, blogs, wikis, academic social networks, printed and ebooks. New methods of (self-)publishing are making the world of publishing increasingly confusing. There is a growing uncertainty about the varying quality and acceptability of the traditional and the new media.
The panel wants to discuss new ways of valorizing research in African Studies: Which publishing model is the most advantageous for researchers’ academic careers? Do the new media formats offer new possibilities for organizing peer reviews? How do research assessment exercises and university appointment and promotion committees judge and influence different forms of publication? What about the speed of publishing and the many new ways of publishing research that are in the making (like blogs)? Are we moving towards more discursive research in a permanent process of commenting and editing? Will there still be a final version of a book or article? How do publishers and especially journal editors respond and adapt to the changing environment with new media formats and to the political pressure to establish Open Access models?
This panel aims to bring together academics, publishers and librarians to discuss these fundamental changes from traditional to new publishing models and how they are used to support and valorize research.

“Publish or Perish” dans les études africaines : de nouvelles façons de valoriser la recherche
De très nombreuses possibilités de publier leurs résultats s’offrent aux chercheurs universitaires dans le domaine des études africaines : revues avec évaluation par les pairs et en libre accès, archives scientifiques institutionnelles, sites personnels, blogs, wikis, réseaux sociaux de scientifiques, livres imprimés et numériques. De nouvelles méthodes de (auto-) publication rendent le monde de la diffusion des écrits de moins en moins limpide. L’incertitude croît au sujet de la qualité variable et de la recevabilité des moyens aussi bien traditionnels que nouveaux.
Ce panel entend discuter de nouvelles manières de mettre en valeur la recherche dans les études africaines : quel modèle de publication est le plus avantageux pour la carrière universitaire des chercheurs ? Les formats des nouveaux moyens de publication offrent-ils de nouvelles possibilités d’organiser l’évaluation par les pairs ? Comment les exercices d’appréciation de la recherche et les comités de nomination et de promotion à des postes universitaires jugent-ils et influencent-ils les différentes formes de publications ? Sommes-nous en train de nous diriger vers une recherche plus discursive dans un processus permanent de commentaire et de révision ? Comment les maisons d’édition et en particulier les éditeurs de périodiques réagissent-ils et s’adaptent-ils à l’environnement changeant avec de nouveaux formats de publications et à la pression politique pour établir des modèles de publication en libre accès ?

Paper 1

Damen Jos / African Studies Centre, Leiden

African studies: the role of researchers, editors and publishers in a rapidly changing era

The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge was drafted in 2003. The Budapest Open Access Initiative had sprung up two years earlier, as a reaction on one of the new possibilities of the (e)distribution of scientific output. The following decade saw an increasing number of journals, higher subscription rates, a so-called “journal crisis” (for libraries and others) and a growing importance of impact factors. Is this decade different? Valorization seems to be the keyword, and the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA 2013) stresses intrinsic quality. At the same time, the system of peer review is being debated. Are there any other options? Four journal models are discussed here: two open access, either funded by organizations or by contributors; two paid access, either by subscriptions or by organizations. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch: in the end someone will have to pay for the organizational-, website- & printing costs. This panel will discuss new ways of valorizing research in African Studies. It will look at the African context, and at new or supporting ways of publishing (repositories, blogs). The papers in the panel reflect the different position that each stakeholder takes. Researchers are interested in the best possibilities to publish their research findings; journal editors need to adapt to a new environment and publishers try to find solutions with changing publishing models.

Paper 2

Hiribarren Vincent / King’s College London

Blogging Academic Research: the case of Africa4

This paper will discuss the importance of blogs to disseminate the outcomes of research in African History. It will be based on the double experience of the author as a lecturer in a British university (King’s College London) and as the co-founder of Africa4, a blog hosted by Liberation, a French newspaper (http://libeafrica4.blogs.liberation.fr/). It will be argued that the different temporalities present in classical research outputs and blogs influence each other. For example, ideas developed in my recent monograph on the history of Borno (Nigeria) need to be summarised for Africa4. As Borno is the region where Boko Haram is based, most of my contributions are heavily influenced by very recent events. Conversely, the epilogue of my book was written with my blog in mind. Finally, this paper will assess how the question of ‘engagement’ with wider audiences remain central for historians of Africa who know that many of their ideas will never be read by Africans themselves. Writing for a blog remains a solution which goes beyond the simple question of research assessment exercise.

Paper 3

Odhiambo Tom / Department of Literature, University of Nairobi

Siundu Godwin / Department of Literature, University of Nairobi

What’s Cultural Studies? Reflections on Why Publishing in East Africa is so Difficult

This paper is a reflection on why publishing in East Africa is so difficult. The paper traces the intellectual and academic journeys we made as the editors of a newly launched journal – Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies. We wish to reflect on the kinds of intellectual questions we asked and were asked in relation to the initiative. What are/were the implications of suggesting a journal title that not only invites but demands intertextual and interdisciplinary engagement? What intellectual value would this new journal add to the existing systems of knowledge production and dissemination in East Africa? What intentions informed the suggested geographical reach of the journal? As we respond/ed to these questions we also engage/d significant debates on the politics of the relevance of research in the Humanities, especially Cultural Studies – in East Africa today; we deal, albeit briefly, with the difficulties of institutional funding for research and publishing; we also confront, again briefly, the much-discussed relationship between the global North and South in the production, dissemination and use of knowledge on Africa. We suggest that apart from challenges traceable to institutional and infrastructural handicaps, there are real attitudinal issues relating to what the idea of an academic ‘journal’ means to many academics in the region, specifically the notion that publications are mainly to meet institutional requirements for promotion, rather than anything else.

Paper 4

Cader Roshan / Wits University Press

African studies publishing in South Africa: a viewpoint from the South

The paper will consider the role of scholarly presses in South Africa in supporting the publication and dissemination of original research by South/African and Africanist scholars. I want to look at this within the context of whether the South African scholarly publishing sector is indeed supporting African studies in meaningful and effective ways; or if there is a continued bias towards the Global North publishing industry enabling the “West” to speak for Africa and if this is still so, what do publishers in South/Africa need to do to address this. As the commissioning editor at Wits University Press, I will focus specifically on my experience at Wits Press, the oldest scholarly publisher in South Africa. The challenge for South African scholarly presses is that the sector is small (collectively the sector publishes 50 book titles per annum) so reaching international audiences and library markets on an individual bases requires clever marketing and effective search optimization of its digital content. However, most publishers in South/Africa are highly constrained financially. Even though the digital age has made publishing more accessible in some ways, the mechanics of publishing to achieve maximum reach and high impact favours the bigger publishers or wealthier university presses and it is these publishers smaller university presses are competing against. Access to research and ensuring its widest possible dissemination is what drives both publisher and author.

Paper 5

Limb Peter / Michigan State University

Valuing Digital African Studies: Narrowing the Gap?

New modes of publishing African Studies accelerate research, creating digital repositories, but valuing outcomes is complex, contested. For tenure, refereed publications remain the Holy Grail. Fears of quality decline accompany a rise in self-publishing & inverse social media brevity. Valuing works requires reliable sources but permanency concerns remain: online news in Africa can disappear as evident with Ebola reporting-if you trust Google, in African languages some news never occurred! But new modes allow wider review, contesting of canon.20 years ago Africanists hoped open access credentialing was around the corner. This hasn’t eventuated but a measure of recognition is conceded as society goes online. Blogs/open access journals will not clinch jobs but let scholars leave an imprint. Graduate digital courses with blogs replacing essays & projects offered to libraries show a trend to capacitise a new generation of teachers, valorizing research. Librarian job descriptions insist on digital skills. Granting bodies privilege the digital. Publishers go online. African studies associations hold digital workshops. If output in core media maintain centrality in ranking/citation there is now a merging of forms. New books appear, some to acclaim, using digital sources, new knowledge discovery techniques emerge. There will remain a need to balance digital and print collected by libraries and refereed writing with more spontaneous communication but their boundary is likely to narrow.

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