Drawing on her study of authors and publications across various journals focused on Asian Feminism, Francesca Earp finds that Asian feminist voices continue to be underrepresented. As these voices are critical to both the relevance of research in the region and in their contribution to wider feminist thought, she argues more needs to be done to increase the diversity of published research in this field.
As academics, we are taught to rely on peer-reviewed journal articles as a basis for our research. At the same time, the necessity to decolonise feminist academia demands that we give voice to the communities we study. This raises the important question of, what happens when these perspectives are not present in the academic record? Community-led academic perspectives are crucial and yet feminist publishing remains heavily Western-centric.
Academia has traditionally been dominated by white, heterosexual, middle-class scholars, leading to significant barriers for non-Western academics. Racial academic exclusion affects not only community inclusion and job security, but also the visibility and recognition of their work. This is evident in the underrepresentation of non-Western scholars in high impact factor journals.
Community-led academic perspectives are crucial and yet feminist publishing remains heavily Western-centric.
I recently conducted a bibliometric investigation into the publication rates of academics from the Asian region in dominant feminist scholarship. This research was conducted for my Master’s thesis ‘The Forgotten Feminists: The inclusion of Asian Academics in feminist scholarship’ and was presented last year at the International Feminist Journal of Politics conference ‘Remapping the Feminist Global: A multi-vocal, multi-located conversation’.
This research aimed to critically explore the contributions of Asian scholars to dominant feminist theories and debates. I looked at three Q1 leading feminist journals, as well as two reputable feminist journals, that were recommended to me as having higher rates of Asian authorship by two leading feminist academics from the Asian region. The study reviewed the primary authorship of all unique publications included in these journals that related to the themes of ‘feminism’, ‘non-dominant feminism’ and ‘Asia’.
The investigation found that Asian authorship of feminist literature was relatively limited across both the leading feminist journals and the Asian identified journals. Shockingly from a total of 1,744 publications only 3.2% were authored by Asian academics based in the Asian region and 1.6% by Asian academics based at institutions outside the Asian region. In the Asian Identified journals a whopping 91.1% of the publications reviewed were published by non-Asian academics. Similarly only 0.5% of the publications in the leading journals were published by Asian academics based in the Asian region.
1. Asian academic and Non-Asian academic authored publications in all journals, 2. Asian academic and Non-Asian academic authored publications in Asian Identified Journals, 3. Asian academic and Non-Asian academic authored publications in leading journals.
As well as the publication statistics this study demonstrated that Asian authored feminist literature differed between leading feminist journals compared to Asian identified journals. Disappointingly, a thematic analysis of the articles across the journals noted that Asian academics included in the leading feminist journals shared thematic similarities with the non-Asian authored articles, whilst those published in the Asian Identified Journals did not. This finding appears to suggest that Asian authors are only able to contribute to dominant feminist conversations if they draw on Western feminist theory.
What does this mean for the diversity of feminist knowledge? In short, it allows for the persistence of the whitewashing of feminist discourse. A discipline that has long been criticised for its colonial nature. Additionally, it allows non-Asian scholars to be the dominant voice on Asian feminism in academia.
This said, the decolonisation of feminist academia is not that simple. The deep rooted imperialism of feminism and the non-Western evolution of other gendered movements including womanism and feminology mean that feminist academia maintains its exclusivity to Western academics. Further, the racial exclusion of non-Western academics and the overrepresentation of English language academic journals continues to favour Western feminist voices.
As scholars, we have a responsibility to seek out and engage with diverse perspectives and experiences, regardless of our academic discipline. While it is important to work towards a more inclusive and diverse academic landscape, we cannot simply wait for these changes to be made. We must take proactive steps to challenge the status quo and actively seek out the works of non-Western academics. This not only promotes a more equitable and representative academic landscape, but also enriches our own understanding and perspectives.
In her editorial on the anniversary of the Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, Mala Khullar wrote about the inclusion of non-Asian voices in the journal. She noted that while some articles were written by academics outside the Asian region they still have a purpose as they are pertaining to feminist issues in, or relating to the Asian region. While I agree with Khullar’s stance that non-Asian academia has a role to play in the journal, it is crucial to ensure that the representation of non-Asian authors does not overshadow that of Asian academics in journals aimed at amplifying their voices.
As a British-born Australian academic writing about the overrepresentation of Western scholarship on Asian feminism, I am acutely aware of the irony of the situation. Nevertheless, it is imperative to examine our own privilege and biases and strive for greater self-awareness. Feminist academia is currently oversaturated by Western voices, just look at the statistics presented above. It is time to actively seek out and prioritise the voices of those who have been excluded from academic discourse.
The current state of academic publishing reinforces dominant power structures and perpetuates systemic inequalities. It is crucial that we critically examine and address these issues in order to create a more inclusive and diverse academic landscape that accurately reflects the perspectives and experiences of all communities.
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