Knowledge imperialism in global social sciences: how capabilities should be demarcated from social capital

Demeter, Marton (2019). 'Knowledge imperialism in global social sciences: how capabilities should be demarcated from social capital' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


In my many years long research project I extensively analyzed the patterns of Global North hegemony pertaining the field of global academy in general, and in social sciences in particular. In my contribution I will argue that knowledge imperialism, maintained by, mostly, education, is a vivid feature of social sciences, and it could be demonstrated on both the level of international academy and on the level of national institutional networks. While in the global level we encounter an explicit core-periphery structure (in terms of leading publications, departmental compositions, education and career trajectories etc), in the national (or periphery-within-core) level we are facing with serious social class based stratification. What follows is that, in global academy in general and in social sciences in particular, a Western elitist hegemony rules over the field while the voices of the authentic (peripheral) Global South academics are very hard to be heard.

I will argue that the world-system of global academy is far for being as meritocratic as it thinks of itself, what is more, the international (and on the other level, the national) elite systematically use education for masking the fact that top positions (including positions at significant HEIs) are reserved to the global elite almost exclusively. In my argumentation I will use my own 4 dimensional model that is capable to handle both the issues of global knowledge hierarchies proposed originally by the Wallersteinian world-system theory and Bourdieu’s concept of elite education that describes the ways people from different social classes collecting scientific capital in a socially stratified field that academy is. Besides theory presentation I will present extensive data on global hegemonies regarding publication trends, gatekeeper positions, career trajectories and educational paths in social sciences.

The above mentioned “masking” means, from a Bourdieusian perspective, that the elite systematically maintains the illusion that recruiting employees for top positions are based on the capabilities of the candidates. As empirical research clearly shows, selection committees overemphasize the significance of elite education while systematically undervalue the significance of former scientific productivity. This tendency, that allegedly represents meritocracy but actually only maintains and reinforces the hegemony of the upper class leads to the situation that, as my former research shows, there are no Global South educated tenured professors (in any level) in the top one hundred sociology departments that entails more than three thousand academics. This tendency is maintained despite the fact that future productivity has no correlation with diplomas but only with former productivity, because being educated at top universities express rather family background than capabilities, while productivity is based on the capabilities of the individual candidates.

in this presentation I will show through an analysis of extensive data on career trajectories of social scientists worldwide that selection committees systematically exclude the most talented and productive candidates from the selection process while favoring those with elite diplomas – irrespectively from their capabilities manifested in their former professional productivity. I will argue that candidates from the Global South and/or from lower class familiar background should be favored more by selection committees because they can produce equal or more production that their elite peers with less capital (in a Bourdieusian sense) that means that they are much more productive. I will argue that capabilities could, and should be distinguished to social (or academic) capital when assessing candidates’ values at different positions of high skilled work and I will also show some calculations by which these awkward inequalities could be balanced.

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