‘West is must, the rest is optional’ : epistemic injustice and positional good in international research collaboration

Yusuf Ikbal OLDAC (Presenter), Jacob Oppong NKANSAH, Lili YANG

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation



A dominant trend in contemporary higher education and across science systems is the unprecedented increase in international research collaboration (IRC) (Kwiek, 2021). Consequently, a strong global knowledge network has been established (Wagner, 2018), and the number of scientific papers co-authored by authors from different countries has increased dramatically over time (Marginson, 2022).

IRC happens when researchers across borders cooperate to conduct and publish research publications (Glänzel & Schubert, 2001; Adams, 2013). Research on IRC has been increasingly the focus of bibliometric and scientometric studies that use the metadata of publications. However, the importance of IRC goes beyond bibliometrics and studies focusing on scientific efficiency. Despite its increasing importance, IRC research is relatively recent but on an increasing trend for higher education studies (Kwiek, 2021).

This study investigates IRCs in light of global scientific inequalities. It examines how hegemony resulting from epistemic injustice and positional competition impacts IRC in the unequal global research system, using data from Turkish higher education.


Türkiye is uniquely positioned at the borderline of Global North/West and Global South/East dichotomies, but it is usually not categorised as a part of Global North/West. Another critical point about Türkiye’s IRC is its geographical position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Given that Türkiye is closely located next to the European Union (EU) and is part of EU’s Horizon research schemes, it is highly connected to Europe-based researchers and funds. However, Türkiye’s geopolitical position also puts the country in a position to collaborate with Asian systems (c.f. Oldac & Yang, 2021; 2022), making Türkiye an important place for researching the impact of hegemony and inequalities in IRC because it allows the power dynamics of competing geopolitical actors more visible.

Theoretical framework

This study introduces the concepts of epistemic injustice and positional good to the IRC and global science literature. A profound, mutually reinforcing relationship exists between global hegemony and the concepts of epistemic injustice and positional good in IRC.

Fricker’s (2007) work has been seminal in arguing for epistemic injustice for the ethics of knowing. The capacity to know and produce knowledge is perceived to be unequal through prejudicial stereotypes and social power. With this lens, some societies (i.e. the Global North/West) are perceived as more ‘credible’ knowers and hence ‘credible’ knowledge producers. Hence, epistemic injustice in this study refers to differential values ascribed to research conducted in different parts of the world, creating hegemonic inequalities in global science.

Hirsch’s (1976) arguments towards positional good have influenced sociology and later higher education studies (e.g. Marginson, 2006). Hirsch (1976) views positional goods to be scarce commodities in socially imposed or absolute numbers, e.g., good seats in a theatre. A similar situation takes place in IRCs. Differential values ascribed for knowing and producing knowledge lead to a positional competition to work with those who have higher socially-constructed epistemic values. This socially-constructed mechanism creates a hegemonic inequality in IRC between the Global North/West and other parts of the world.

Against this backdrop, this study seeks to answer the following question: What are the dynamics of epistemic injustice, positional good and hegemony in IRC?


This study employs qualitative case study approach to investigate ‘an intensive, holistic description and analysis of’ IRC in Türkiye (Merriam, 1998, p. xiii). A comprehensive and research-oriented university in Türkiye was selected to obtain in-depth qualitative data on international research connectivity.

The selected institution represents one of the highest levels of internationalisation in Türkiye. This university provides a well-round representation of numerous research fields. All the academic faculty at this university must have either an education or a post-doc experience abroad. These characteristics position the selected university as an excellent institution to research the nature of rapidly increasing IRC in the traditionally-noncentral research system of Türkiye.

This study included data from researchers, institutional-level research managers and national-level policymakers to gauge the dynamics of IRCs. We conducted semi-structured interviews to explore motivations, incentives and behaviours related to IRC. The study included purposefully selected 14 participants. The interviews took approximately an hour each. Fieldwork was completed once we reached data saturation. The participants were specifically selected based on several criteria, including research area representation and gender distribution. We employed a thematic analysis for the interview data collected (Miles et al., 2014). Further details will be discussed.

Emerging findings

The analysis of the findings highlighted significant and novel insights into the research on IRC literature specifically and global science literature broadly.

One finding that clearly emerged is the strong value attached to collaborating with Global Northern/Western scholars or institutions, which could be explained in several ways. One is that IRC with the West seems to procure a higher epistemic value. Epistemic injustice towards research conducted in different parts of the world is not a new discussion in the literature (Fricker, 2007), but the existing literature focuses on the knowledge produced. By contrast, in this study, the findings indicate that the researchers may already be thinking about the epistemic value of their work before publication while establishing their collaboration networks.

Another explanation, which is connected with the earlier one, is that IRC with the West is perceived to bring a positional advantage. The global science and IRC literature have not adequately discussed this matter. Positional competition occurs if a value is scarce in an absolute or socially imposed sense (Hirsch, 1976). Our findings indicated that, when viewed from outside the global North/West, IRC with scholars in the West/North, especially if they are in a prestigious institution, is a positional good and is harder to achieve. If collaborating with a Western-based institution or scholar brings more attention, why not try to collaborate with them more?

Institutions have agency and can make a difference in what is researched and with whom the researchers collaborate. Findings indicated that funding obtained from and collaboration links established with Global North/West are highlighted and encouraged more than other parts of the world. The role of the selected institution should also be acknowledged here, but we suspect such encouragement would not be peculiar to the study’s selected institution.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2024
EventThe 68th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society: The Power of Protest - Miami, United States
Duration: 10 Mar 202414 Mar 2024


ConferenceThe 68th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society
Abbreviated titleCIES 2024
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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