What about the Excluded? Critical Stances on the Anglo-American Hegemony Thesis

Critics of the 'Anglo-American hegemony' literature in human geography have built on a theoretical and political position that can be defined as 'post structuralist'. Post structuralist thinking, and notably its radical versions, finds its origins in a variety of intertwined strands of research and reflection, including feminism, postcolonial theory, and cultural studies, which have exerted growing influence during the past decades on established social science disciplines such as sociology, geography, and anthropology. The distinctive feature of this literature is to be found in the reflexive and critical character of its approach to the understanding of knowledge production: knowledge is viewed as a situated process and
practice, which is to be related to varying contextual, social, and political–institutional factors. The awareness of the uniqueness of the research context has therefore led scholars to place an increasing emphasis on the specific and differentiated positionalities of the researcher in the undertaking of his/her research endeavors.

Albeit engaging with critical reflections on the positionality of the researcher, those stressing and debating the Anglo-American hegemony in human geography have not attempted – according to some critics – to offer a more balanced analysis of the factors behind the uneven geographies of scientific production: not only an analysis of the 'external' factors (the hegemonic role of Anglo-American countries) explaining the subaltern position of many countries in the knowledge production, but also an analysis of the 'internal' factors explaining such a subaltern position (the weaknesses and the contradictions of the national university systems in many countries) is central to the understanding of the contemporary unevenness of geographical knowledge production. Along these lines, the benefits of using English as a global lingua franca are presented, in contrast to those views that regard English as a sheer factor of cultural homogenization or even domination. According to this view, having a lingua franca recognized as such by the majority of the scholarly community ensures a stronger level of cohesion and is indeed a preferable situation to one characterized by features of fragmentation and isolation of the various national 'traditions'. From this perspective, the use of a global lingua francer can be seen as a way to preserve geographical diversity and to enhance scholarly communication at the international level under the current context of globalization.

This is frequently linked to arguments about the 'internal' factors undermining scholars' productivity outside the Anglo-American world. In fact, while critics of the Anglo-American hegemony have focused their attention on the unequal power relations existing between the 'center' (the Anglo-American countries) and the 'periphery' (more or less, albeit to differing degrees, the rest of the world), they have left aside from their reflections a critical consideration of the 'endogenous' contexts in which scholars operate outside the Anglo-American countries: the either too 'precarious' or too static academic positions of researchers; the hierarchical power structures limiting the autonomy of researchers; and, probably most importantly, the lack of institutional incentives aimed at improving the research performances of university departments.

This critique of the Anglo-American hegemony thesis expresses a point of view that can be considered 'liberalinstitutionalist' in the ways in which it points the attention on the institutional conditions preventing researchers from being competitive at the international level. Whatever political and theoretical orientation is behind this position, this critical contribution is of interest here because it touches on a crucial aspect in the Anglo America hegemony debate: the issues related to the governance of research production and, most notably, to the introduction of assessment procedures and audit cultures aimed at stimulating university systems to finesse and enhance research performance and, in general, to more competitive behaviors. While more rationalist accounts stress the potential changes following in the wake of possible transformations in the governance structures of the university systems, critical scholars express a concern that the growing importance of assessment systems and other accountability procedures has consequences not only on the quantity but also on the quality, the meaning, and the substance, of scholarship. Attention is devoted, from this perspective, to the process of neoliberalization of higher education systems taking place in many non English speaking countries. The introduction of centralized or multilevel assessment systems and of the related governance structures, along the lines of the Research Assessment Exercises adopted in Britain since the mid 1980s, brings about profound changes in the ways in which research is undertaken by human geographers in an increasing number of countries: academic entrepreneurialism and publishing practices centered on the central role of impact factor journals are the distinguishing features of the changing university systems in Western Europe and many other countries inclined to adopt the neoliberal recipes of societal governance.

In light of these reflections, it can be argued that the earlier formulation of the Anglo-American hegemony thesis is not sufficient to address the current developments taking place within the structures, the institutions, and the intellectual technologies governing social sciences and the higher education systems within advanced liberal countries. The debate on this subject needs to take more closely into account the institutional factors underlying scholars' publishing practices and strategies. Beyond the Anglo America/rest of the world divide is the increasing neoliberalization of higher education systems and the multiple techniques of 'government at distance' affecting scholars' working practices in an ever larger number of countries that demand careful scrutiny by critical geographers today.


The debate about the Anglo-American hegemony in human geography should be more concerned with the kind of vantage point to be adopted in the discussion. Issues related to the corporatization of the university system, to the increasing productivity being demanded to researchers, and to the commodification of academic labor have so far been analyzed mostly with reference to the UK and the US. From this perspective, the 'peripheries' have been seen either as mere importers of dynamics and processes which have been created elsewhere in the 'center' or as spaces being excluded from the globalization of social science and more specifically of geographical knowledge. The non English language geographer has somehow been confined to the role of 'subaltern, coherently with the postcolonial approach inspiring the critical literature about the Anglo-American hegemony, while s/he has not been considered as a potentially empowered subject, pursuing autonomous strategies and practices of knowledge production.

Following from this, it can be noted how little is known at the moment about the ways in which geographical knowledge is produced and transmitted to the wider community of scholars and other readership outside the Anglophone world. In particular, we still know little about the ways in which non English language human geographers disseminate their scientific results and are already accustomed to deal with multilevel, 'international', publishing spaces. Today, within the context of globalization, features of unification and cultural domination can coexist with those of plurality and heterogeneity giving shape to a more heterarchical geography of geographical knowledge than the one we know from existing accounts of human geographers' publishing practices. Thus, along with tendencies leading to homogenization of university systems at the world scale related for instance to the aforementioned adoption of research assessment procedures, there are still multiple academic subjects performing a host of situated practices and strategies of academic publishing addressed to the contemporary globalized world.

In this context, future research needs to be committed to deal with the lack of knowledge about the machineries of geographical knowledge production outside the Anglo-American universities, including those that have the potential to challenge the Anglo-American hegemony in human geography. Along these lines, forthcoming research efforts will then take into account the relationship existing between researchers' publication practices, the adoption of exogenous approaches to the governance of knowledge production, the consequent changing character of national policies and institutions, and the ways in which academic communities react and adapt themselves to these multilevel institutional pressures.