Working Paper 63
Moving beyond centre-periphery science: Towards an ecology of knowledge
Published April 2021

The evolution of a large and dynamic global system of science has been a major development of the Internet era. The networked system, grounded in autonomous collegial activity, is associated with rapid growth in papers, the spread of science infrastructure to a growing number of countries, and the rise of new science powers outside Euro-America. The United States remains the strongest country in shaping authoritative knowledge but China excels in total papers and in some STEM disciplines.

Yet despite the fact of a more multi-polar world, in economic capacity, political agency and scientific output, there is continued Euro-American domination in the content of science, regulated by an inside/outside binary which reproduces the old North/South and West/East hierarchies. Global science is unequalising and homogenising, and primarily Anglo-American in language, leading institutions, disciplinary and publishing regimes, agendas and topics. Non-English language work and endogenous knowledges are excluded. Scholarship on global science does not effectively address these issues.

The fascination with bibliometrics merely reproduces the inside/outside binary: all of those conducting scientometric research and the university rankings based on bibliometric data are complicit in the fiction that the knowledge stored in the commercial repositories of Web of Science and Scopus is all that needs to be known. Not all of the critical work on global science has been helpful either. The paper critiques the dominant imaginary of world science, world-systems theory with its centre-periphery model.

This theory fails to grasp the dynamics of the specifically global system, and radically under-estimates agency outside the ‘centre’ countries, as shown by the manner in which nation-states and autonomous researchers on the ‘semi-periphery’ and ‘periphery’ have been able to rapidly develop science. The centre-periphery model is unduly determinist, in the outcome reinforcing the Eurocentrism it opposes. The paper argues for a critique of hegemony not centre-periphery, focusing on cultural factors as well as political economy, and for an ‘ecology of knowledges’ approach as the way forward.

Read the full Working Paper here.