Result-Based Management Turns the Humanities into a Monologue

Result-Based Management Turns the Humanities into a Monologue

Drawing on a large-scale comparative study by scientists from the UK and Germany on how pressure to publish is felt in different scientific careers, Marcel Knucklemanargues that the structural publishing drive inherent in research evaluation in the UK creates a result-oriented and monologue-oriented research culture through an engaged public dialogue.

It is often said that the humanities are in crisis. The reason is that they are no longer used in modern society, or that humanities scholars are too preoccupied with themselves and their niche scholarship. In short, the humanities can’t buy anything, and they don’t promote innovation and growth like science does. A well-known defense claims that the humanities not for profit. They are valuable for a democratic society precisely because they serve not as a means of growth, but as a reminder to us—as a democracy and society—of who we are and how we got there.

Scientific discourse and publications reflect this. Scholars publish knowledge that is in itself useful to society. They promote innovation and growth by offering new explanations for nature or technology. Because of this reduction to a result, scientific discourse itself seems to depend much more on novelty than on its history. You only need news to profit from science. There is no such news in the humanities. You cannot take a new humanitarian text and make money from it. In fact, most texts on their own are usually of little use. Discourse in the humanities is intricately dependent on the dialogue itself. Each new text is of little value without its own history and textual tradition. As a result, understanding the dialogue itself is knowledge. In other words, the history of discourse is as important as its differentiation.

Bringing the scholarship to fruition

Good governance of the humanities as an institution means promoting it. It feeds the dialog instead of the output. In the UK, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), by focusing on research results, does the opposite. This contributes to what is commonly referred to as publish or die a narrative construct that supports the logic that traditional publishing is the key to academia life. This forces scientists to work on increasing productivity at the cost of not having dialogue. In big comparative study by more than 1000 scientists in Germany and the UKI studied the prevalence and underlying motives for this pressure.

As an example, in both Germany and the UK, experienced pressure to publish is high among emerging scientists. This is true for both journal articles and monographs. She is even higher at the beginning of her career in Germany. This is due to the extremely conservative career system in Germany, which is still guided by the idea of ​​a traditional professorship. Few will end up maintaining this secure, long-term position. However, among the few who achieve this (usually after 10-15 years in academia), the need for publication is greatly reduced, especially for monographs. The situation is different in the UK, where the demand for monographs remains high, and for journal articles it is even increasing. Nearly 80% of UK humanities scholars with 16 to 20 years of academic experience say they are under (high) pressure to publish papers, and only less than 50% of German scholars are at the career stage.

Basic connections matter a lot. The desire to publish among scientists at the beginning of a career in Germany is great, but it is a structural issue of establishing a career. In the UK, pressure is considered to be closely related to exploratory assessments such as REFs (or similar simulation exercises leading to REFs). The striking feature of this is that it affects not only young scientists but also senior scientists. Even after twenty-five years in academia, half of all British humanities scholars are negatively influenced.

Rice. 1: Publication behavior influenced by official research ratings (eg REF or Exzellenzinitiative); from Authorship and publications in the humanitiesp.104.

This conclusion contains more details and is not universally applicable. It should also by no means be understood as an apology for the German career system, which own huge problems. But the continued focus on improving performance by holding accountable for a quantifiable, measurable impact at the cost of a particular performance pushes the point publish or die from an early career challenge to a career-defining challenge that ultimately shapes scholarship.

In the UK, a scientist is still faced with the need to produce results – not only to define the foundations of his career, but also to meet unwritten quotas or meet the structural requirements and guidelines of his department’s REF. Really, publish or die storytelling mediates intellectual work across the spectrum of career positions. Regardless of position, scientists are faced with the need to release new material, to do so within a specified timeframe, and to publish in a set manner.

1688379866 563 Result Based Management Turns the Humanities into a Monologue | lifefromnature

Of course, its proponents argue, REF is not concerned with the quantity of production, nor does it separate publications from their context. After all, it is driven by peer review. But the problem goes beyond the recommendations of the REF itself. REF is only the most visible manifestation publish or die. We only need to look at the job market, where the talk of being REFable– to have enough results for the next trial exercise REF – becomes a defining feature. Like the stars it awards, what REF means in everyday academic life is more important than what it means on paper.

Competition for results instead of rational discourse

To outsiders, REF appears to be a means of allocating funding. But its rating mechanism—a means of allocating token rewards—has surpassed its purpose of distributing funding. Universities compete for artificial excellence in order to gain reputational advantages in the form of stars. The more stars a university has, the more attractive it looks. This consistently turns individual scientific output into a means of making a profit. The humanities bear a significant portion of the cost of this marketing strategy. Contrary to their nature, they must work for profit.

This essentially turns the notion that the humanities are not profitable against themselves. Constant concern for results reduces the ability to interact with others. Instead of listening to the arguments of others, teaching the best teachers, or working on intellectual abilities, scientists are rushing to publish apparently new work (and doing so in traditional, closed ways). This performance for the sake of profit reduces dialogue to monologues, which ultimately goes to the detriment of society as a whole. And here the scientific discourse can be seen as a mirror. Principles rational discourse necessary for both democracy and the university. They demand not always to insist on one’s own voice, but to really listen to others and participate in their arguments. REF’s pursuit of artificial perfection does the opposite. This is the price of managing personal excellence, which is achieved at the cost of losing structural quality.

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Image credit: New Inventions of Modernity (Nova Reperta), The Invention of Printing, Plate 4Jan Collaert I, after Jan van der Straet alias Stradanus, via The Met (public domain).

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