"Publier or perir": English in French academia

[Guest post by CYGNA member Anne Laure Humbert. In this post Anne talks about her recently accepted AMLE paper on a topic close to my heart: the role of English as an academic language.]

"Publier or périr": Is writing in English a necessary condition for achieving international and/or national recognition?

In light of growing and intense pressure for academics to publish their research, we critically examine the role that English – as the global scientific language – plays in a context such as that of France. This national setting is interesting in that it is changing from valuing books written in French for a largely national audience (with high profile scholars translated into English for a global audience such as Bourdieu or Foucault) to increasing use of English for shorter articles in high-impact international journals. Publishing globally (i.e. in English) not only represents a socio-cognitive challenge, but also raises questions around productivity and diffusion: is there a trade-off between producing more and having wide reach? Is writing in English a necessary condition for achieving international and/or national recognition?

Our results show that writing in English is related to slightly higher citations, which is likely to reflect the wider readership this entails. However, it does not increase the volume of papers being produced. This suggests a substitution effect as writing in English does not represent an additional activity for French academics. Encouragingly, we also find no evidence that writing in English rather than French was related to higher national or international recognition. This problematizes the growing requirement for English to be used within an academia that is becoming global. Our results suggest that having wider reach and impact does not need to come at the expense of research written and published in national contexts.

Abstract

In response to the increasing discourse on academic careers and knowledge creation, we develop and test a model predicting research performance in the field of management outside the Anglo-Saxon countries. Based on comprehensive data of French academics, we examine various factors – career-related and demographic factors like gender – that play a role in determining academic research performance in an increasingly global academia. The role of the English language is positively related to citations but not to the volume of papers or their global/national recognition. Higher institutional reputations were positively associated to number of papers, citations, and national recognition.

Strikingly, there was no relationship with global recognition, suggesting that the reputation of institutions plays a role, but only insofar as the national context and without spillover into the global academic scene. Finally, men were over-performing in both publications’ quality and quantity. Career experience had a positive effect, although this reduced gradually over time. Our findings can help individuals’ career decision-making and institutional investment in human-capital. We offer an original contribution to facilitate the understanding of factors that may influence research performance outside the Anglo-Saxon academia by opening of the black box of knowledge development, exposing the role of academic publications and recognition.

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