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.

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.

RegionCoun­tryDoc­u­ments (in 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

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.