Disseminating the social sciences and humanities

Policy Brief of the European project Interco-SSH

By Gisèle Sapiro and Hélène Seiler-Juilleret

This policy brief on the conditions for the dissemination of the social sciences and humanities is part of the European project, Interco-SSH, which examines the processes of institutionalization and internationalization of the social sciences and humanities.

The policy brief addresses two questions concerning the dissemination of the work in the social sciences and humanities: that of the language of publication and that of the digital medium, in free or paid access.

While English is gradually emerging as the primary language of use in transnational scientific exchanges, which it helps facilitate, such linguistic homogenization risks, on the one hand, epistemological impoverishment and, on the other, reducing the societal impact of work in the social sciences and humanities; because, in a foreign language, research is no longer relayed by the national media and becomes less accessible to the general public. Rather than opting for a linguistic globalization which would serve the circulation of knowledge in the social sciences and humanities, it would be more appropriate to encourage the translation of books by strengthening aid and subsidy policies, in particular on the level of the European Union—by setting up training programs for the translation of the humanities in university courses; by creating international bodies of reflection and supervision of the activity of translation, etc.

Similarly, in absolute terms, the digital transition tends to favor the circulation of knowledge. However, the injunction to open access raises the problem of the economic model for journals and books. Solutions range from “green open access”, which consists of free access online publishing, to “gold open access”, imposed by the major publishing groups (Elsevier, Springer, Sage, etc.) that require exorbitant amounts (2-3 000 euros) for the publication of an open access article, through the restriction of the embargo to two or three years, after which the publication falls into the public domain (according to the model proposed by Cairn in agreement with the French publishers). While it is certainly well-intentioned, the European Union's injunction to shorten the period of the embargo (between 6 and 12 months) risks favoring private ownership of knowledge as a source of profit by large groups, which have already begun to utilize it, while calling into question the fragile equilibrium reached by more equitable solutions such as that proposed by Cairn, which could have served as an alternative model.

The Interco-SSH project, coordinated by Gisèle Sapiro, is led by the CNRS-CESSP, Paris, in partnership with the University of Bologna, the University of Cambridge, CONICET (Argentina), John Wesley College (Budapest), the University of Graz and the University of Rotterdam.


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Gisèle Sapiro, Hélène Seiler-Juilleret