Why Southern African Scholars Conduct Research: A Comparative Study of Values

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University of Cape Town


Scholarly Communication in Africa Programme (SCAP) Research Papers

Why do scholars conduct and disseminate research? This is a foundational question in academia, though one that is usually taken for granted in the literature on scholarly values and attitudes. Most studies – which typically focus on scholars from the global North – tend to assess academics’ feelings about research-related issues such as academic peer review, dissemination outlets for scholarly outputs, perceptions of journal quality, digital and Web 2.0 technologies, open access publishing and academic identity. They shed light on scholars’ attitudes toward elements of their research and communication practices, but they do not get at the more basic question of why scholars conduct research in the first place. In Africa, where most universities have only recently incorporated a research mission into what have long been teaching-oriented institutions, the question of why scholars conduct research is a pertinent one, and the answers cannot be assumed. Moreover, the purpose of university research on the continent is shaped by more than just the desires of the scholars themselves, but by those of their national governments, their institutions’ managers, students, overseas funders, local NGOs and community stakeholders. Thus all of these competing interests impact how scholars view the research enterprise. As part of its work of mapping scholarly communication activity systems in Southern Africa, the Scholarly Communication in Africa Programme (SCAP) tried to answer this foundational question by examining regional scholars’ motivations for conducting and disseminating research. Between 2010 and 2013, it engaged with four different faculties in four different universities (the Universities of Botswana, Cape Town, Mauritius and Namibia) so that the regions’ scholarly research and communication activities would be assessed with an eye for how disciplinary, institutional and national factors impacted scholars’ research values. In this paper, we explore the scholarly values motivating the production and dissemination of research in these four Southern African universities.