Central Asia Between Eastern Europe and the Developing Asia: Academic Invisibility from a World Systems Theoretical Point of View

World systems theory (WST) dates back to Immanuel Wallerstein, who developed his understanding on world power relations by building on Marxist concepts of capitalist world system and on the core-periphery models of dependency theories.

WST suggests the division of the world (of anything) to central, peripheral and semi-peripheral agents. While most analysts used WST to the description of economic or political inequalities, I have successfully adopted WST as a framing tool for the description of global academic odds in many of my former analyses. In this short post I will argue that, in terms of academic contribution, Central Asia (CA) is a typical peripheral region of the world system of global academy which has been impacted between semi-peripheral world regions like Eastern Europe and the Developing Asia.  I will use both historical and empirical argumentation to show that CA is almost invisible in the map of global science, and, which is a bad job, its minimal contribution consists of mainly fake-internalisation.

Observatory of Ulugh Beg ruler and astronomer in Samarkand

Historically, from an academic point of view, the most important fact about CA is that it consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, so it was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. The most obvious consequences of this fact are, from our point of view, that 1) teaching and learning of English as the lingua franca of international science was contraindicated and, in some cases, even impossible; 2) the region was almost hermetically excluded from international academic associations; 3) it was very hard to reach Western academic literature, not to mention expensive Western periodicals; and 4) the econometric indices including state fund on scholarship were way too low as contrasted with those of the Global North. As a result, for almost 40 years, it was very hard or even impossible to keep up with Western or international standards of research, methodology and publication habits. So it is not at all surprising that after the end of the Cold War, all regions of the former Soviet Bloc found themselves as peripheral agents of global academy, and – sadly, with the consent and even the active operation of the West – this subordained position hardly changed since then.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University ranked as 10th best university in Emerging Europe and Central Asia by QS World Rankings 2018

Kazakhstan, that is, the biggest and academically most successful country of CA was placed ninety-ninth among 144 countries in terms of quality of scientific research institutions in 2014, while the other three countries, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, had even worse positions. The Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science tried to raise the level of academic quality by a relatively stricter publication requirement for Kazakh PhD students and faculty members, but, as we will see soon, these attempts have not resulted in serious incline in terms of academic output. Table 1 shows that if we consider the total sum of academic articles, CA trails after not just the developing Asia but after Eastern Europe and even some African countries.  Since we are discussing on global science, we considered only Scopus-indexed articles. Scopus (with Scimago) is the most widely used international database for the comparison of academic performance, and it is more inclusive than ClarivateAnalytics’s Web of Science.

RegionCountryDocuments (Scopus)Citation/documentH‑index
Central AsiaKazakhstan19,4443.6181
Developing AsiaChina5,133,9247.64712
North Korea74616.6455
Developed AsiaJapan2,539,44115.38920
South Korea1,004,04212.25576
Hong Kong263,60219.06479
AfricaSouth Africa241,58712.94391
Eastern EuropeRussian Federation956,0257.07503
The CoreUS11,036,24324.252077
The Netherlands886,13525.58893

Table 1 World regions in science and their academic output. H-index refer to the number of articles with at least a given number of citations so, for example, H-index 81 means that the country has 81 articles in Scopus with at least 81 citations.

Our empirical data clearly show that even a small Eastern European country like Hungary has almost 5 times stronger international contribution than the whole CA region, and semi-peripheral countries of the developing Asia like Malaysia or Indonesia have even better performance. As a matter of fact, even the scientifically absolutely insignificant North Korea has more than 2 times more Scopus-indexed articles than Turkmenistan. The most successful country of the region, Kazakhstan, has the same academic output that the extremely poor Ethiopia. The abyss that divides CA to the core regions is unutterable: the small Western country, the Netherlands has more than 25 times bigger science output than the whole CA region.

As a summarisation of this present post I would conclude that, from an academic point of view, CA could be conceived as a relatively unnoticeable peripheral region of the world system of global science and it seems like it hasn’t yet recognised that in order to brake out from the periphery it should get to the centre by publishing in core journals. I hope that the data provided here could help CA scholars and their mentors confronting these facts and they will try to set out more successful strategies in order to raise the visibility of this very important and precious region of the world.