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Conspiracy theories and publications July 11, 2010

Posted by lapsippipm in opinion.
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Mien Rifa’i, professor of biology from the Indonesian Science Academy, recently remarked that Indonesian scholars’ contributions to the advancement of science via international journal publications were a far cry from what is expected (Kompas, June 23).

In comparison with Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, which respectively publish 10,000, 5,500, and 3,500 articles annually in international journals, Indonesia, Mien remarked, has not yet reached 1,000 articles per annum.

Such a surmise, if it is correct, certainly augurs ill for national endeavors to upgrade our education system. It is noteworthy to remember here that it is the number of international publications that is used as one of the measures to determine a rating of higher education worldwide.

What have become matters of indifference in our attempts to publish internationally is the idea that getting one’s scholarly works published in an international journal needs more than just the scientific value the works may contribute.

Scientific value, the catchphrase often attributed to scholarly works, has been, unfortunately, taken at face-value among our academia. The prevalent perception is that it is a neutral notion.

It is well-established, however, that what constitutes scientific value is a matter of group agreement or consensus, suggesting that such a value preserved in most international publications is neither ideologically or politically neutral. It is instead ideological and political-laden.

As most international publications are under the domination of Western hegemony, it is plausible to lay a claim that the process of arriving at the consensus is replete with Western ideological bias.

As such, it is not impossible to suspect that an international academic publication is not immune to what American philosopher, William James Earle, dubs “power brokers”.

Obviously, under the hegemony of Western ideology, which exerts a powerful influence in a gate-
keeping function to impose desired ways of thinking and filter knowledge so as not to stray from the agreed conventions, those wishing to publish their works in international publications are severely constrained by this condition.

It might be the case that those not conforming to the conventions are labeled outsiders who are ineligible, from the insider perspective, for knowledge construction and production manifested in academic publication. Worst of all, the legitimacy of knowledge used by the insiders to construct a discourse via written texts are seriously called into question, and thus suppressed and marginalized.
So much so that consensus-making has its own undemocratic side, which is known in the philosophy of science as conspiracy theories, the basic premise of which holds that “a few powerful figures in each scientific field act as ‘gatekeepers’, controlling access to journal, jobs and research funds”(Earle, 1992).
The greatest challenge for our scholars to have their ideas published internationally is not an anachronistically-sounded excuse — how to cultivate enthusiasm in academic writing among academia — but rather how to nurture confidence in adopting what Sri Lankan’s scholar Suresh Canagarajah calls “a paradoxical attitude of resisting conventions.”

Indeed, it may sound a paradox to resist the dominant hegemony at the expense of one being rejected to enter the dominant discourse communities (i.e. being published in international journals).

Nevertheless, bearing in mind that knowledge is mutable and protean, being contested ad infinitum, and that it is contextual, resistance — which can take the form of negotiation and appropriation of the dominant conventions — can prove effective as a plethora of both anecdotal and empirical studies have shown us.

Given the lines of argument above, it seems plausible to conjecture that despite their insider status, our neighboring countries ascribe their productive academic atmospheres to the growing awareness of the importance of challenging the Western hegemony legitimacy of knowledge construction by either negotiating, appropriating or even rejecting it to suit their purposes.

Setiono Sugiharto, The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is a chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

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