Abstract of my doctoral research (submitted in March 2021)


Rationalities of Scholarly Discourse

A Cultural Sociological Analysis of Authorship and Publishing in the Humanities

Publish or perish is an ever-present topic in academia, but it is much better understood in the sciences than in the humanities. The humanities are historically geared towards a culture of thought articulated by historical-hermeneutical principles. Contemporary academia, however, is increasingly governed by formal rationality which induces a culture articulated by instrumentalization. Authorship and publishing practices are manifestations of these cultures. More and more, formal rationality prevails so that publishing practices become instrumental means for purposes external to scholarly discourse: individuals can advance their careers or institutions enhance their reputation and funding with formal publications records. This cultural shift from scholarly values to formal measurement helps explain why publishing practices are constituted the way they are today, and why many a scholar perceives immense pressure to publish ever more frequently, irrespective of scholarly discourse.

I draw on cultural sociological theory as well as on two empirical studies for my analysis. I utilise practice theory to explain the relation of cultures and practices as well as Max Weber’s categorisation of rationalities to ground my argument. I conducted a quantitative survey with more than 1,000 scholars in Germany and the UK as well as a series of 18 qualitative interviews with humanities scholars to determine characteristics of the empirical situation. There have been many recent claims of a crisis in scholarly communication: my analysis helps see this in a new perspective. It suggests a re-evaluation of the terms on which early career scholars compete, terms on which national policies and mechanisms such as the REF are built, and terms with which institutions and funders seek to legitimate the use of resources. Terms, as the analysis determines, that are increasingly tied to instrumental publishing instead of to thinking, teaching, or scholarship.

Funding and scholarships

This  research is fully funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK (AHRC) through the London Arts and Humanities Partnership(LAHP). I’m currently also holding a non-financial scholarship of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (German Academic Scholarship Foundation) for this PhD. In 2020, I spent a few months as a visiting scholar at the Department of Sociology, Yale University, to strengthening my theoretical foundations. This research stay was funded by the UCL Doctoral School.

Keywords: Authorship, Scholarly Publishing, Humanities, Publish or Perish, Reputation


Reach out for discussions or collaboration

Marcel Knöchelmann

If you want to find out more about my research programme, please get in touch with me. I’m happy to discuss topic, methods, or theories >  marcel.knochelmann.15 at ucl.ac.uk


Hits: 852