Epistemic Inequality

Andrew Piper and I recently completed the first essay in a larger project on knowledge norms and publishing. “Publication, Power, Patronage: On Inequality and Academic Publishing” will be out soon in Critical Inquiry. Our hope for the broader project is to help mitigate the profound ignorance that we scholars, ourselves included, have of our own institutions. We are also trying to imagine what epistemic equality might look like, both as a concept and an institutional reality.

“Publication, Power, Patronage” focuses on academic publishing and includes both a quantitative analysis of contemporary publishing patterns in the humanities, as well as a conceptual account of the historical relationship of publishing practices to the modern research university. The quantitative study is based on a new, hand-curated data set of 45 years of publishing in four leading humanities journals that encompasses just over 5,500 articles. But the publishing patterns that our study reveal only make sense when situated within a longer genealogy of academic and university publication. The contemporary norms of academic publication have a long and complex genealogy in the scholarly and institutional practices that make up the history of the university. We’re trying to understand both that history and our current situation.

To give you a sense of our conclusions, here are two graphs. The first shows the number of published articles by PhD institution and author institution. The disproportionate influence of a very few institutions is, to say the least, striking.


The second graph shows the gender distribution of published authors for each of the four journals in our study. figure_5

There is a lot more in the essay. Here is a PDF version (Academic Inequality) of the pre-print and here is a link  to our data and code.

chad wellmon

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