Preliminary abstract of my PhD research

Why do researchers in the humanities disciplines publish their research the way they do it? What may appear to be a trivial question has far-reaching implications: a researcher’s body of published research forms her scholarly identity and is the basis for the advancement of discourses. In addition, it is the crucial building block for a career in academia. Reputation and quantity play important roles—the number of publications and the brands of the publishers or journals that accepted the research are acknowledged signifiers of reputation. Those signifiers can be used for career advancement or indicators of institutional prestige. In a highly competitive academic job and funding market such as that of the humanities, publishing research has become an end in its own instead of being a means to enabling discourses. Rivalrous funding processes, mechanisms aiming to open access to publications and review processes, and increasing economic pressure on humanities publishers appear to be complicating this situation. Within this complex of interwoven developments in authorship and publishing, it is not easy to say with certainty to what degree these are symptoms or causes. Rather, they contribute to a reified narrative—publish or perish—which has consequences, especially for early career researchers.

My research focusses on finding out about those aspects, whether they be symptoms, causes, or consequences: how are the principles of this narrative enabling or constraining researchers? How is the individual reproduction of those principles contributing to the systemic reification of the narrative? And what provokes or guides researchers to publish the way they do? To what extent are they guided intrinsically by scholarly discourses or by structural properties external to the discourses?

I approach this topic by working with the theory of structuration, which I apply to the topic to determine a social theory of authorship and publishing. I ground this theory empirically in two sets of data, one based on an exploratory, quantitative survey and one based on qualitative interviews.

In Spring 2018, I conducted a quantitative survey among researchers (n=1,178) in the humanities and social sciences in the UK and Germany. The main purpose of this study was to determine relevance of focus such as: are there different perceptions and levels of pressure in the social sciences and the humanities, between the UK and Germany, or between different levels of careers (ECRs, mid-level researchers, senior or tenured researchers). The insights of this exploratory survey led to re-focussing my further research.

The set of empirical data gathered subsequently is based on qualitative interviews which I will conduct with researchers in humanities disciplines in different levels of seniority (ECRs, mid-level researchers, tenured researchers). To determine systemic sources of constraint, I conduct a comparative study between different institutions and countries, focussing on the UK, Germany, and potentially the US. These countries have systemic differences in how researchers are employed and required to perform in terms of output, so therefore make for productive case studies.

Funding and scholarships: This PhD research is fully funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK (AHRC) through the London Arts and Humanities Partnership(LAHP). I’m currently also holding a non-financial scholarship of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (German Academic Scholarship Foundation) for this PhD.

Keywords: Authorship, Scholarly Publishing, Humanities, Publish or Perish, Reputation, Theory of Structuration

Discuss the research

If you want to find out more about my research, please get in touch with me. I’m always happy to discuss topic, methods, or theories > marcel.knochelmann.15 at

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