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Gender and location in African politics scholarship: Q&A with Ryan C. Briggs and Scott Weathers

In an effort to address misconceptions about gender and location in relation to academic publishing in Africa, the editors of African Affairs reached out to Ryan C. Briggs and Scott Weathers to discuss the findings from their recent research in more detail.

Over the next few months, there will be subsequent posts featuring Africa-based scholars and their reactions to the implications of this research.

What are some of the observations you found in your research?

We looked at publishing trends in African Affairs (AA) and the Journal of Modern African Studies (JMAS) from 1993 to 2013 and found three initial observations.

First, over this time period, the fraction of women writing in these journals increased substantially. It hovered at around 20% of all articles from 1993 to 2003 but then over the following decade it rose to around 50%.

Second, we find the opposite has happened to authors that are based in Africa, as their contributions have declined from near 30% early in the period to closer to 15% at the end.

Third, we also examined citation patterns and found that Africa-based scholars, but not women, are cited less than other authors.

What can be inferred about the causes of these phenomena from the data?

We present preliminary evidence suggesting that the decline of Africa-based authors publishing in AA and JMAS does not exist because Africa-based authors are submitting fewer articles to these journals. Instead, it seems that the problem is one of low and falling acceptance rates.

Regarding the citation gap, we found that the results held when we controlled for the use of single case studies or the use of statistics in articles. This suggests that basic methodological differences are not causing the gap. That said, it is not clear to us what is causing the gap.

We thought that the citation gap might exist because Africa-based scholars study different topics that do not map neatly onto existing political science debates, and so might be more readily overlooked. To examine this, we grouped all articles by whether or not the authors were based in Africa and we examined the words in article titles that were most unique to each group. The most unique word for authors based outside Africa was “Africa.” This suggested to us that outsiders were more likely to make statements about the continent as a whole. We also found that authors based outside Africa were more likely to write on conflict or economics.

The most unique words for Authors based inside Africa were “Nigeria,” “Botswana,” and “South Africa.” Thus, while single country studies are not causing the citation gap, it could be the case that articles on the internal politics of South Africa get cited less than articles on “conflict in Africa.”

What are the research gaps in terms of understanding the causes?

Our research does not show what is directly causing these issues, however we did rule out some explanations. For example, it seems unlikely that the lack of Africa-based publishing is caused by declining submissions, but that doesn’t lead us to a definitive answer. In informal conversations, editors emphasized that the quality of research from Africa-based scholars is a key barrier to higher publication rates. Although research quality is difficult to measure empirically, especially among unpublished submissions, this may be important. If declining quality is an issue then it may be tied to a broad shift from support for tertiary education in favor of primary education.

The same goes for the citation penalty. It doesn’t seem to be due to basic methodological differences, but we don’t know why it is happening. There is evidence suggesting that both groups of authors study different things, but we are not able to directly connect that difference to the citation penalty.

What are key areas for further research?

If one is thinking from the point of view of mainstream American political science, then one would conclude that we know very little about this topic. This point of view would push towards research that does more to understand the underlying causal forces creating the patterns that we found. Broadly speaking, this is our approach to thinking about the problem. However, it is worth acknowledging that we are coming to this late and that many other authors, often working from a more critical direction, would have different answers to this question. Discussion across these divides may also be productive.

Featured image credit: globe Algeria Niger Africa by Peggy_Marco. Public domain via Pixabay.

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