China ‘goes out’ in a centre/periphery world: Incentivising international publications in the humanities and social sciences
The current expansion of English language publishing by scholars from China is supported by national and university policies, including monetary and career incentives to publish in English. These incentives, which extend to work in the humanities and social sciences (HSS) as well as the natural sciences and technologies, are situated in evolving strategies of internationalisation.
China has moved from an internationalisation strategy simply based on learning from the West, to a ‘going out’ strategy designed to both lift domestic research capacity and advance China’s influence in the world. But ‘going out’ strategy nonetheless embodies ambiguities and dilemmas. The world of academic knowledge is not a level playing field but more closely approximates the centre/periphery dynamic described in world systems theory. By focusing on English language publishing, Chinese universities run the risk of downplaying work in national language – especially important in the HSS – and creating knowledge from and about China primarily in Western terms without adding a distinctive Chinese strand to the global conversation.
Incentives to publish in international journals generate heated political and scholarly discussions in China. Current debates speak to a large body of literature on the internationalisation of higher education and research, especially in HSS, whose disciplinary cultures are different from sciences and technologies (e.g. De Rijcke, Wouters, Rushforth, Franssen, & Hammarfelt, 2016; Wilsdon et al., 2015).
However, prior to the present study there has been little published evidence about the impacts of incentivising HSS international publications in China. This study explores the influence of such strategies in China, in the context of a centre-periphery world. The study contributes to the multi-positional (Sen, 1993) literature on the internationalisation of knowledge and draws out implications for policy makers and university practices in countries located outside what has been the global centre.
This study draws on two principal data sources: analysis of 172 institutional incentive documents, and 75 semi-structured interviews. Incentive documents were collected from the official websites of 116 universities in China’s ‘985’ and ‘211’ groupings, and during visits to six case universities between February 2016 to May 2017.
Six case study universities were selected from among the ‘985’ and ‘211’ universities, namely the exemplary universities in China with the aim to become world-class universities (Ma, 2007). Interviews were conducted between September 2016 and May 2017, with 65 HSS academics and six senior administrators in the six universities, together with four Chinese HSS journal editors. Academic interviewees varied in their disciplines, academic titles, education background, and publication experiences.
Interview data was coded through three rounds of coding, from open coding, to pattern coding to develop categories (Saldaña, 2015), and to the last step of clustering, comparing, contrasting, building logical connections between codes, and generating themes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014).
The study identifies practices within China’s HSS that reproduce centre/periphery relationships, and also alternative dynamics that challenge the existing global power hierarchies in HSS.
The centre-periphery model was evident in the documentary analysis and interviews, as indicated by the prestige of SSCI and A&HCI publications, the desires to communicate with institutions and scholars at the global centre, and the emphasis on the English language.
The study also identified dynamics within Chinese HSS that were less conforming with the centre-periphery model. Some scholars argued for a more proactive role by Chinese scholars and researchers in asserting distinctively Chinese ideas. Some scholars upheld the value of work in Chinese by challenging the global hierarchies normed by publication incentives. Likewise, certain universities had revised incentive documents to enhance the value ascribed to the leading domestic publications. Some scholars engaged with international journals as reviewers and editors, thereby becoming more active global agents in their own right.
IV Conclusions and implications
In the context of centre-periphery power relations, the form of internationalisation embodied in China, as some conforming practices in the incentivisation shows, is associated with continuing global inequalities. However, alternative discourses and practices are challenging the centre-periphery model, highlighting indigenous knowledge and the need to pluralise global knowledge production.
However, alternative dynamics such as the ‘going-out’ of Chinese HSS showcased notions and practices not in accordance the centre-periphery model. The ‘going-out’ approach can be conceptualised as an ascending process, starting from the level of introducing Chinese contexts, and progressing to more critical, sophisticated, and proactive engagements with global knowledge production and exchange.
This article concludes that contributions to domestic knowledge and global knowledge should be equally valued. Particularly in HSS, where the research questions and focus tend to be rooted in local and national contexts (Altbach, 1998). While they do contribute to global knowledge production, there is no need to prioritise the introductory studies in research incentives.
This study has a number of implications for universities in China and those countries outside the English-language global centre. Policies should move beyond the ambiguities of peripheral internationalisation. Rather than recognise, replicate, and reproduce hierarchies in domestic academia, countries outside the centre should challenge the unequal power relations within global HSS, and begin to move the research system from the single centre-periphery model towards a multi-centre world.
Altbach, P. G. (1998). Comparative higher education. Greenwich: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
De Rijcke, S., Wouters, P. F., Rushforth, A. D., Franssen, T. P., & Hammarfelt, B. (2016). Evaluation practices and effects of indicator use-a literature review. Research Evaluation. https://doi.org/10.1093/reseval/rvv038
Ma, W. (2007). The flagship university and China’s economic reform. In P. G. Altbach & J. Balán (Eds.), World class worldwide: Transforming research universities in Asia and Latin America (pp. 31–53). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Saldaña, J. (2015). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (3rd ed.). London: SAGE Publications.
Sen, A. (1993). Positional objectivity. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 22(2), 126–145.
Wilsdon, J., Allen, L., Belfiore, E., Campbell, P., Curry, S., Hill, S., … Johnson, B. (2015). The metric tide: Report of the independent review of the role of metrics in research assessment and management. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.1.4929.1363
Dr. Xin Xu is an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Global Higher Education, Department of Education, and a Junior Research Fellow at Kellogg College, University of Oxford. She has strong research interests in higher education, internationalisation and globalisation, academic and research life, and research assessment and impacts.
To contact Xin Xu, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.