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The importance of non-English academic research

Updated: Jul 8, 2022



In a recent article published in Daily Nous called “Geoacademic Inequalities in Philosophy”, philosopher Justin Weinberg refers us to an article by Ingrid Roberts, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utrecht (Netherlands), who discovered that the Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy has 23 chapters of which 22 have been written by US-based political philosophers, and 1 chapter by an Oxford-based duo of political philosophers.

We do not want to question the quality of these figures widely recognized for their academic contributions. However, we want to highlight the underlying structural conditions that have led to this current reality. Since, as Roberts says, this tends to lead to “an image: that ‘good’ philosophy is done in the USA and other Anglophone countries, and that if one wants to be successful, that’s where you have to be. This image, however, narrows and impoverishes philosophy, as it excludes valuable knowledge produced elsewhere".

Eric Schwitzgebel had already highlighted a similar situation in a publication in The Splintered Mind, where he noted that on the editorial boards of major philosophy journals, 564 members (96%) had their primary academic affiliation with an institution in an English-speaking country, such as the United States or the United Kingdom. There were barely 6 German members and 2 French members. And only 1 Spanish member, even though Spanish is a language with 600 million native speakers. Furthermore, entire continents such as Africa or Latin America do not have their own representatives in these academic journals.

These facts show an underlying reality: that non-English philosophy is underrepresented worldwide. However, this problem goes beyond philosophy and covers all world academic research. There is a current underrepresentation of non-English speaking countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc., and this is not to mention the almost null presence at a global level of universities, faculties, institutes, studies, research, publications, and colloquiums, etc., by Latin American, Asian and African countries. In particular, from the poorest countries with languages other than English.


Barriers to academic participation

One reason that many people offer to explain this phenomenon is the linguistic barrier. The global use and preponderant dominance of English over other world languages is clear, and in research, it is accentuated even more. The predominance of universities, institutes, magazines, publications, on the internet, on Google, on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.), in congresses, meetings, and academic debates in the English language is today overwhelming compared to activity in other languages. Currently, if you want to reach a global audience and have an international influence, you have to publish in English.


However, there are other reasons that are often hidden behind the mere linguistic issue.


An underlying structural reason is economic. There is an undoubted economic strength in the English-speaking world. And, as a consequence of this, of the universities and other institutions of these countries. The academic, editorial, congressional, informative, communicative, and dissemination power is comparatively much greater in the United States and the United Kingdom than the economic support that exists in these areas in non-English speaking countries.

Language is a means of exporting ideas and products, but language is also a fundamental means of transmitting a specific culture and doing so in a specific way. What is transmitted through language is not only the language itself, it is also several of its implicit connotations: a code, a culture, and a way of being, thinking, and acting. This constitutes cultural isolation and lack of knowledge, interest, and consideration on the part of the United States and the United Kingdom towards other countries, cultures, and languages.


A third reason is the research strength of American and English universities. Like those of the Ivy League in the United States or the Russell Group in the United Kingdom. Due to the economic power of these countries, these universities are able to recruit the best academics from around the world. These scholars in turn dominate academic journals, reinforcing this hierarchy.

Academic professors and researchers of other universities in the world are little known and, therefore, they are not present nor are they invited to participate in many conferences, forums, seminars, studies, and international congresses, nor to publish and disseminate their work in English.


The fourth reason is that most academic publishers are based in the United States and the United Kingdom. The editors do not access research, works, and articles written in languages other than English. Largely because they do not know them and are not aware of their work. This causes deep inertia in the current system, which will not change easily.


A fifth reason is the lack of translation of research, books, and articles by academics working in other languages into English. And viceversa: the low rate of translations of academic articles or books from English to other languages. Many books and almost all academic articles are only published in English.

All of the above often conveys the misconception that good research is only done in the US and UK. And furthermore, if you want to do something significant and academically renowned, you have to reside, work and publish in English in these countries. All this leads to a consequent academic brain drain that is already taking place from non-English speaking countries to English-speaking ones.

The reality is that it is not necessary to write in English or live in the Anglosphere to do excellent academic work. What happens in this communication and information society is that what is not known or not seen seems not to exist. The current global power of the Anglosphere marginalizes, excludes, and even annuls the knowledge and relevance of non-English research in the world.


What can we do to promote non-English research in the world?

To remedy and mitigate this situation of underrepresentation and discrimination and to promote non-English research in the world, among other possible activities, we propose:

  1. Put a stop to the idea that all good research is in English and that you have to reside in the United States and the United Kingdom to do good academic work.

  2. Incentivize academics from outside the Anglosphere to publish in international journals, in order to launch new and more diverse lines of research that are also promoted in the most academically active countries.

  3. Translate many more articles and books from English to other languages, and viceversa.

  4. English-speaking academics should conduct part of their reading and research in languages other than English to include more diverse and often overlooked lines of inquiry.

  5. We should promote and publicize academic work in other languages on the internet, on social networks, and in other media.

  6. We should convince publishers to publish in different languages and send them works in other languages translated into English.

  7. Group and unite various universities and public and private institutions in non-English speaking countries so that together they have more research strength and thus manage to promote more and better academic research. For example, by promoting an Ibero-American research organization for each academic discipline.

  8. Raise important public and private funds to be able to reinforce the role of research and publications in other regions of the world.

  9. Promote meetings and academic conferences in various countries and in various languages of the world.

  10. Promote the online academy, for example, by making many colloquiums available to attend online, which would help all those attendees who are at a considerable geographical disadvantage.

Our role in this issue

One of the main purposes of Futurosophia is to promote the stated objectives, particularly in the Spanish-speaking world. Our work is mainly aimed at the 600 million people who have Spanish as their native language, whether they live in Spain or in the twenty countries of Latin America. We aim to promote Effective Altruism, as well as academic research in related disciplines, which are underdeveloped and underrepresented in Spanish.

Our commitment is to expand the scope of Effective Altruism and the knowledge and prevention of global and existential catastrophic risks at an international level in Spanish and, complementary and consequently, to promote knowledge, thought, and the development of a social movement around of these topics.

To fulfill our mission, we also incentivize people who want to have a professional career in these areas to contact us at contact@futurosophia.com so that we can support them in important decisions related to their academic and professional careers.


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