How Long Is An Anthropological Thought?

I have noticed two trends in anthropological publishing: First, several of our major journals have shortened the maximum length of submissions to below the 10,000 word mark. Second, new ethnographies seem to be getting shorter and short, and several I’ve read are less than 200 words of body text. I’m sure anthropology is just going along with larger trends in making these changes, but I think it also reflects changing answers to the question: how long is an anthropological thought?

I think I’d like to write separate entries on changes in book and journal length but before I do so I wonder what people’s general responses to these issues are? I know that the twittersphere was all a-tweet about shortened journal article lengths when the changes were made. Has anyone else noticed this but me? Or does anyone else have an opinion on either trend?


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

6 thoughts on “How Long Is An Anthropological Thought?

  1. Rex, Is the issue with the length of the anthropological thought? If the thought is well formed and well written and it still requires more than 10,000 words or 200 pages, it would still get published, wouldn’t it? I was encouraged in grad school to write my dissertation ‘efficiently’ which is to say don’t take 300 pages to say what can be said in 200 pages. I was told to cut out anything that wasn’t directly relevant to the central thesis and observations. Being concise was preferred over wide-ranging and ultimately redundant examples – even if those examples were intriguing or worthwhile in their own right. I’ve been working with a press on a book manuscript and the message is very much the same. (But, as you note, my book manuscript is a little shy of 200 pages. A magic number?) Could it be that the dimensions of the anthropological thought haven’t changed as much as stylistic concerns?

    One more thought: is there a minimum word or page length for an anthropological article, book, or thought? I don’t see many 10 page articles or 50 page ethnographies. Surely there are anthropological thoughts that are worthy of such lengths. Indeed, the blog posts at SavageMinds routinely demonstrate that anthropological thoughts can be short and to the point.

    Thanks for the questions, Rex. -Tad


  2. I suppose if I was to reiterate: if the length of the anthropological thought is variable and the length of the forums we have to present those thoughts is fixed, we have a problem.

  3. I suspect the post means to say that some ethnographies have less than 200 PAGES of body text, not words. Although, if you’ve found an ethnography with less than 200 words of body text, that would certainly be something worth discussing here, as well.

  4. For what it’s worth, when I was finishing my book. Japanese Consumer Behavior, I was instructed by the publishers to keep it short (wound up a bit over 200 pages) because no book of greater length would ever be adopted for classroom use.

  5. how long is an anthropological thought?

    I don’t know, how many clauses can the author embed within his/her embedded clause?

    Ethnographic monographs once gave pride of place to presentation of data and synthesis. The evolution in the direction of greater brevity has tended to be purchased through exclusion of data rather than with concision of prose. I understand that the book as data dump isn’t going to do much business, but given that cultural anthropology doesn’t have a genre comparable to the reference grammar or the archaeology report I do think this trend isn’t all to the good.

  6. As an Anthropology Editor at a University Press, I can confirm that 200 pages has become a magic number of sorts – at least in terms of publishing an ethnography that can be adopted for course use. For major scholarly contributions, length can be extended but, in case you haven’t noticed, the monograph, while still thriving in anthropology, has all but died in most other disciplines. That means readability, relevance and narrative become all the more important. As for ethnographies less than 200 pages, I’d be thrilled to see something shorter (75-100 pages?) that managed to include rich ethnographic data with a big picture analysis. A collection of ethnographic pieces that landed somwhere between the traditional book length and a journal article but were well written could fill a huge void. So…I would suggest that length is relatively fixed, depending on the profile of the author, the intended audience for the book, and the contribution it is intended to make to the field.

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