Investigating Publishing Strategies and Career Trajectories in the European Context

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By Laurie Anderson, MWP Academic Communication Skills


How do patterns of co-authorship, language choice and preference for certain publication outlets link up with disciplinary differences? And how do these aspects of scholarly publishing tie in with the career trajectories of young scholars in the European context?  A recent article by Laurie Anderson, University of Siena/MWP and member of the FIESOLE Group, probes these issues. The article appeared in the August 2013 special issue of Language Policy focusing on how linguistic policies and practices are affecting academic publishing in a variety of national and regional contexts (including China, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey and continental Europe in general).

The ‘object of study’ of the article is the MWP fellows themselves – their publishing patterns and how these intersect with disciplinary differences and mobility patterns. “The MWP fellows,” Laurie notes, “are representative of what Marginson refers to as the ‘top tier’ of young international academics, and are therefore a useful barometer of trends in academic publishing and of how these intersect with patterns of mobility”.

The study is based on an analysis of the publishing records of four MWP cohorts and in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 24 fellows publishing in more than one language. Drawing on research on scholarly publishing and on academic labor markets (including work by Ramon Marimon and members of the ACO Observatory), the article highlights how, for multilingual early-career scholars, taking a strategic approach to publishing requires an ability to play by the often implicit rules of one’s disciplinary sub-community, while at the same time juggling the sometimes conflicting demands of national (and local) engagement and international visibility.

Some of the results of the study line up closely with those emerging from previous research, such as a strong preference for joint publication in economics and for individual authorship in history or legal studies. By focusing explicitly on how these and other patterns intersect with language of publication, however,  the quantitative analysis documents both important disciplinary differences (e.g. nearly monolingual publishing in English in economics; considerable multilingual publishing in history) and intriguing trends that cut across all four disciplines considered (e.g. a greater use of English as more decision makers − volume editors, journal editorial boards, international publishing houses − become involved in the publication process). The interviews, instead, reveal how policy forces affecting publishing decisions originate on various levels and surface in interaction with significant actors in the research and publication process – from doctoral supervisors and university committees, to conference organizers and volume editors, to program administrators and national evaluation schemes. They also highlight how such forces can push in different directions: mainly towards English-language publishing, but also towards publishing in national languages and multilingual publishing.

The study is one of the first to explicitly assume a life-course perspective on academic publishing, a perspective that Laurie argues is useful both for young academics and for practitioners involved in training for academic practice. “The concept of ‘internationality’ takes on a different meaning,” she observes, “when viewed as a cumulative characteristic of individual scholars rather than as an attribute of journals or of individual publications. The interviews strongly suggest that both geopolitical location and disciplinary affiliation (such as whether one belongs to a ‘mainstream’ or ‘niche’ discipline) play a role in defining what publishing behavior counts as useful for career advancement.”

“For anyone interested in English as an academic lingua franca”, Laurie comments, “working with the MWFs is like having a microcosm of today’s international academia at your fingertips: many of the substantive issues now being addressed by scholars in the field are part of the programme’s daily bread and butter”. Laurie is currently mining the interview data for a couple of follow-up studies; she is also investigating several aspects of spoken academic discourse, some mainly of concern to applied linguists (such as links between speech rate and comprehensibility), others of broader interdisciplinary interest (such as how presentations constitute a site for face-to-face networking). So, ex-MWP fellows (and researchers interested in academic communication): keep your eyes open for the next installment!

The full article is available here