Open Access Publication in the Spotlight (November) - 'On the Frontline of Global Inequalities: A Decolonial Approach to the Study of Street-Level Bureaucracies'
|27 November 2023
|Open Access Team
Each month, the open access team of the University of Groningen Library (UB) puts a recent open access article by UG authors in the spotlight. This publication is highlighted via social media and the library’s newsletter and website.
The article in the spotlight for the month of November 2023 is titled On the Frontline of Global Inequalities: A Decolonial Approach to the Study of Street-Level Bureaucracies, written by Flávio Eiró (Assistant professor at the Faculty of Arts) and Gabriela Lotta (Getulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil).
This article aims to contribute to street-level bureaucracy (SLB) theory by bringing to the forefront the experiences and perspectives of the Global South. Our argument is that mainstream literature in this field overlooks the social tensions that are more explicit in developing societies, resulting in a structurally limited analytical framework. We identify two key factors from the Global South that are often underestimated: the high degree of social inequalities that fundamentally affect state–citizen relationships, and the ways in which the state itself reflects and reproduces these inequalities. Our critique represents a step toward decolonizing the field and highlighting the conceptual contributions that studies from and of the Global South can offer. By examining the experiences of the Global South, we can gain insights into the crises societies in the Global North are also experiencing. Our article aims to contribute to SLB theory by emphasizing the value of incorporating these perspectives into the study of SLB.
We asked corresponding author Flávio Eiró a few questions about the article:
Why is decolonizing the field of street-level bureaucracy studies important?
First, street-level bureaucracy studies, like many public administration and policy fields, has been influenced by colonial ideologies that validate the superiority of Western states. While there's a growing number of Global South studies in this field, blindly applying frameworks developed in the US and Europe risks perpetuating these ideas. This article urges Global South researchers to complement their work with local scholarship, which have studied these ‘Southern’ states with in-depth approaches that take into account values and histories, and which are committed to produce research that has a positive impact in these countries.
Furthermore, as with many other scientific fields, we call for an actual decolonisation that takes into account distribution of power to influence the field. We name the organisation of conferences as an example, on how studies coming from the South cannot be seen as marginal and exceptional, keeping them out of the reach to change theory, relegated to the role of applying theory. The same goes to the organisation of special issues or books that pretend to be universal, theoretical, but only include studies coming from the Global North. When preparing this article, it took me an hour to find a handful of those. The ultimate goal is to decolonise science by actively addressing and correcting power imbalances in knowledge production.
You are an Open Science Ambassador for the Faculty of Arts. Drawing from your academic experience in Brazil, what specific changes would you advocate for in the global knowledge production landscape to address patterns of inequality?
Most scientific knowledge originates in publicly-funded institutions, making it perplexing that we academics have allowed their work to be exploited by a few major publishers for profit. This went largely unquestioned, particularly among researchers in Global North institutions, because knowledge seems readily accessible through university libraries. Yet, the substantial money flowing from universities (and thus public funding) to these publishers for access often goes unnoticed. This isn't the case everywhere; not every researcher worldwide can afford such access. Dutch universities addressed this by making deals for Open Access publishing, allowing broader readership. We greatly benefit from this, but again, at what cost? Besides the fact that we still pay the gigantic subscription fees to these publishers – which could fund actual research, for which we are in desperate need –, we now reproduce another form of inequality, where publishing OA becomes a privilege reserved to few. In doing so, we sustain the elevated status of these publishers and their exclusionary profit-oriented practices.
In your opinion, does the open science movement sufficiently take into account the experiences and perspectives of the Global South?
Absolutely not. Many countries in the Global South have resisted channeling their public funds into the profits of foreign publishers. They've developed their own publishing systems. In Brazil, my home country and where I was trained as a social scientist, all national journals are Open Access (OA) — completely, without tiers based on affordability. A national database consolidates these journals, facilitating access and distribution. It's not flawless; a common grievance is the lack of compensation for journal editors, a practice private publishers also neglect. The key difference is that we had a state-sponsored initiative to address this. It's overdue for entities like the European Union to respond to researchers' needs, optimizing public resources by funding or providing alternatives for the dissemination of scientific knowledge.
Could you reflect on your experiences with open access and open science in general?
It is one of hope! It's clear that my Open Access (OA) publications wield the most influence. They're read, shared, and cited significantly more than my few non-OA ones, which, to be honest, were often accidental missteps in journal choices.
As an Open Science Ambassador, my not-so-hidden agenda is to push for Subscribe-to-Open (S2O) initiatives. Here, institutions, sometimes even departments or small libraries, collectively fund specific journals or small publishers, transforming all their publications into OA. This means utilizing our resources not just for personal gain but for the greater good. It's a makeshift fix for the problem I mentioned earlier, but it beats settling for OA as an individual (or even country) privilege. That's not the recipe for globally impactful science.
An overview of the open science ambassadors at the University of Groningen
Eiró, F., & Lotta, G. (2023). On the frontline of global inequalities: A decolonial approach to the study of street-level bureaucracies. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/muad019
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