Academic Freedom in a Global Context: Challenges and Perspectives

Academic Freedom in a Global Context: Challenges and Perspectives

Appel pour un numéro spécial de la revue "Transtext(e)s Transcultures 跨文本跨文化: Journal of Global Cultural Studies". Veuillez trouver ci-dessous le texte de l'appel.

Issue Editors

Vanessa Frangville (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Gwennaël Gaffric (Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3)


📅 Deadline for proposals: January 15, 2021
Deadline for first drafts: May 31, 2021

More about “Instructions for authors”:

How to submit your proposal

Please submit a one-page document including an abstract and a short biography to and

General presentation

The current global health crisis has ushered universities into remote learning, raising concerns about the freedom for students and teachers alike to express themselves “beyond the reach of the digital panopticon” (Villasenor, 2020) or to maintain interactive debates instead of pre-recorded online classes where knowledge is processed without being challenged. Besides, online platforms can be a tool to monitor academics’ logging time or online activities. Targeted harassment by disseminating cherry-picked texts and videos used in class is another matter of concerns for individuals and institutions. In authoritarian regimes, pressures on academic freedom have increased in the wake of the pandemic, as recent cases in China have shown: historian Sun Peidong from Fudan University was severely harassed for publicly debating the crisis, Law professor Xu Zhangrun from Tsinghua University was suspended and placed under house arrest for being openly critical of the government, and several other scholars were under investigation for reporting on the lockdown or commenting related political measures. Yet, silencing academics and diminishing scientific research has also occurred in the United States where President Trump has continuously downplayed the severity of the virus and has been denigrate of White House Coronavirius Task Force member and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  Anthony Fauci, thus creating an atmosphere of distrust against scientists. In Europe, new threats to academic freedom have emerged in Hungary and Poland (where authorities have suppressed or threatened the existence of gender studies). The Hungarian-based Central European University was obliged to cease operations in Budapest and relocate to Vienna in 2019 after the Hungarian government refused to allow the university to continue its activities in Hungary. In France, threats to academic freedom on campuses stemming from students as well as groups outside the university have increased,  (Beaud, 2019). In many other countries, the impact of the virus combined with a long-standing economic crisis,as is the case with the Lebanon, will have dire consequences resulting in the axing of less profitable academic programmes and employment. In many ways, the pandemic has generally acted as a catalyst for latent systemic dysfunctions and often reinforced potential threats to academic freedom. 

Academic freedom here is understood as the freedom to produce and share knowledge free from political, economic, or social hindrance so as to shed light on complex situations or issues. Academic freedom refers specifically to members of research and education institutions who seek to create knowledge “for its own sake” (Butler, 2017), rather than for industrial or commercial interests. Therefore, it is distinct from freedom of speech or other basic human rights as it is not an inherent entitlement of each human being, but rather a freedom attached to a specific community of people whose duty is to further develop knowledge in several areas. In that sense, academic freedom has a collective dimension but is exercised by a “community of the competent” (Haskell, 1996) who ensure that science is not politicised. 

This special issue seeks to document and analyse the alarming rise in, and the diversification of, threats to academic freedom in the twenty-first century across the globe. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to: 

* History of academic freedom: how the definition and scope of academic freedom have expanded through time. One objective is to illuminate contemporary realities by looking at changes over the past century. 

* The preservation of academic freedom and institutional autonomy largely depends on the commitments of institutions. How can academic freedom be guaranteed and protected through the formal commitment of universities and other institutions’? Should academic freedom become a crucial topic of debates within the academic community, including students, scholars and administrators?

* The marketisation of universities and the race for “excellence” has created new threats to academic freedom: privileged funding of applied studies over fundamental research; partnerships and subsidies from profit-oriented private organizations or illiberal States with political agendas; the employment of management tools derived from the industrial sector and the gradual withdrawal of public authorities in higher education and so on. How do economic imperatives continue to threaten academic freedom? Do they also create opportunities and if so what are they? 

* Collaboration with academic institutions in authoritarian systems have created dependencies and sometimes led institutions or individual academics to self-censor and sometimes to be complicit with repressive regimes. How can this spill-over effect, or the impact of exchanges and partnership with institutions where academic freedom is not valued, be avoided? Can universities with a global presence create ethical guidelines to avoid such situations and commit to speaking out when students and academics are at risk? How can global campuses guarantee academic freedom? How can the increased use of distance learning via Internet be made safe for students?

* How is academic freedom challenged by specific contexts, such as civil war, other forms of conflict or financial crisis, may it be global or national?

* Can so-called “cancel culture”, or the boycott of contested cultural or historical elements, threaten academic freedom by strengthening conformism and hindering attempts to contradict a certain orthodoxy? 

* Some scholars may work in a context of relative academic freedom, but their research may endanger informants or colleagues from a less relaxed environment. To protect others, should academic freedom come with ethical limits and constraints? 

* How do power structures within a society (such as sexism, racism, hetero-normativity) impact the diversity of academic research, marginalizing researchers from ethnic, gender or sexual minorities, and how does it impact academic freedom? Similarly, how can the homogenization of research and its production (largely carried out through by English language) be a threat to academic freedom? What space should be given to research led and published in other languages, in particular non-European languages?

* In authoritarian contexts, red lines can shift fast. A research field, area or topic can suddenly move from “safe” to “risky”. How do we assess and redefine the notion of risk? Are some fields more affected than others? How can we evaluate where the red lines are?

* In the past few years, several networks and fellowships for scholars at risk have been created to support academics who face threats because of their research or teaching. What forms of solidarity and mobilization can be identified, and how can their effectiveness and suitability be assessed and improved? What are the organizations behind such initiatives? What are the new opportunities to protect and enhance academic freedom in the twebty-first century? How are technologies enabling or unsettling academic freedom?

* So far, academic freedom does not appear as a standard in international comparative rankings. However, this is an important principle and excellence does not necessarily equate to academic freedom. Can academic freedom be measured and how? Can international rankings measure both excellence and academic freedom for a better understanding of how they relate to each other?

We welcome contributions in English, French and Chinese.

Even if academic freedom issues can affect different fields of knowledge, we wish to limit our scope to humanities and social sciences.


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About Transtext(e)s Transcultures 跨文本跨文化: Journal of Global Cultural Studies

Transtext(e)s Transcultures 跨文本跨文化 is a multilingual research journal created in 2006 which employs a double-blind peer review process. It is intended to be a forum transcending disciplinary as well as spatial boundaries for writers and academics throughout the global community. Its ambition is to provide a space for the imagining of new frameworks of accounting for and representing the world, a space in which different approaches and trans-disciplinary methods, may jostle to express the complexity and the diversity of human (hi)stories and societies.