Publishing in important places, and so on

A while back Rex wrote a comment on one of his posts that got me thinking.  About academia.  About publishing.  And about the current system that many of us are a part of.  Speaking about what he called the “awareness habitus of the general professorate,” he wrote:

…a lot of time when tenure committees speak half-heartedly of ‘publishing in major journals’ or citation statistics what they really mean is that they want junior faculty’s names to appear on the things that they read — to see them (although probably not read them!) ‘around’ in ‘important places’.

John Hawks followed with a great one liner posted just below, indicating that Rex had indeed hit the mark.  He’s onto something.  It’s the part about appearing in “important places” that really got my attention.  If getting tenure is all about being in these important places, here’s my question: Who defines what is and what is not an important place?  And, if this is one of the primary functions of our current publishing (and tenure) model, what does this say about the current state of affairs?

Just a few questions for today.  What I appreciate about Rex is that his posts and comments always keep me thinking–and asking questions.  Maybe too many questions sometimes.  As a graduate student who is still somewhat on the outside of things looking in, however, these kinds of questions matter.


Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

9 thoughts on “Publishing in important places, and so on

  1. I wonder if maybe there is too much interest on so-called ‘important’ place publishing and not enough on publishing interesting work because one finds it fulfilling.

    I’ve sat on tenure committees and it’s not ever about wanting to see colleagues names in ‘important’ places – it really is about what they write and where they publish what they write. I have read the full files of every case that I have been involved in. I am interested in what is written and how that speaks to disciplinary norms (or against them).

    In terms of important – From the colonial margins (i.e. in Canada) that typically means either US or British large circulation journals (AE, AA, JRAI, etc). But that does not preclude publications in regional or sub-disciplinary journals. O

    I’ve written a bit about the process in a paper in the journal new proposals:

    Ultimately a person has to be an academic because they enjoy and find the vocation fulfilling. Consequently, what we do has to be because it makes sense and not because it’s part of some grand plan to network and place papers in important places.

  2. Sometimes I wonder if “publishing in major journals”, and publishing really interesting material are mutually exclusive categories. Peer review is a grueling process which often focuses on getting the “little things” right, rather than being provocative, or new. Admittedly, getting the little things right can be important. But sometimes taking a leap, and proposing something substantially different doesn’t make it past the 3-4 reviewers given chance so to anonymously blackball things that may annoy them for peccadilloes which may be big or small.

    I actually prefer books, and book reviews in my own reading. I also respect books in the tenure process more. Someone who can sustain an argument for 200+ pages has a lot of my respect—more so than the 22 page article which focuses on the obscure “theoretical point” which is so milquetoast that it offends no particular anonymous referee. What is more the book is typically a more nuanced and broad argument simply because it is not held down to a word limit, and thus more likely to be provocative and new.

    Notably, too, books while often peer reviewed, do not seem to come in for the often harsh sustained criticism that articles do. They also seem to have longer shelf-life.

    On an semi-related point, I wish that journal editors would tone down their anonymous reviewers. There are ways to say “no” without being insulting and derogatory.

  3. Once again, and again in light of the findings of the AAA report that the AA article ‘Anthropology as White Public Space?’ references, I have to wonder how racial privilege (and especially white privilege) factors into this entire conversation, including in relation and response to the two previous comments to this post. Following Charles Menzies above, I am asking this question from the ‘colonial margins’ as well, albeit a different (and differently gendered and racialized colonial/colonized) margin:  and on this point of ‘colonial margins’ it is worth remembering that both Canada and the US are postcolonies/former ‘British dominions’ and *white-supremacist settler societies*, with the US, in particular, being a post-slave state. How does all this factor–however unconsciously, and particularly given the demographics of the academy and academic anthropology (especially at the highest reaches of the tenured professoriate)–into what reviewers consider ‘important’ and worth publishing, especially in the most prestigious journals? How does this factor into what ‘small details’ annoy reviewers or cause them to reject an article? This last query is directly relevant to and a response to the previous comment by Tony Waters.

    I think these questions are worth asking, especially here on Savage Minds, since they also track back to question’s raised in the comments section of this Savage Minds post (/2011/12/20/hackers-hippies-and-the-techno-spiritualities-of-silicon-valley/), and relate to this previous Savage Minds post on Deleuze and anthropological playlists (/2011/02/04/deleuze-and-playlists/).

    Moreover, the Savage Minds post on anthropological playlists is in direct conversation with Anne Allison and Charles Piot’s Cultural Anthropology editors’ welcome letter, wherein Allison and Piot observed that the most interesting scholarship on critical race theory and sexuality studies is NOT coming from anthropologists. So this could be an opportunity to think about why, instead of sidestepping and ignoring an important and much needed anthropological discussion.

  4. I actually prefer books, and book reviews in my own reading. I also respect books in the tenure process more.

    Anthropology is the exception rare amongst the social sciences in giving pride of place to book publication (ergo all the make–work hardcovers finding few purchasers apart from research libraries). Few linguistics tenure committees would give a dictionary—the most difficult and valuable of all intellectual labor, as far as I am concerned—as much weight as a single article in Language, for example.

  5. I have to wonder how racial privilege (and especially white privilege) factors into this entire conversation,

    I can only imagine “complexly.” I speak from the Far East, another marginal region as far as anthropology is concerned. There is no lack of anthropologists who do research in these regions, and Japan, for example, is home to the second largest number of anthropologists in the world—but the attention paid to the region by mainstream anthropology is small compared to its growing importance in world affairs. Why? It certainly has something to do with the history of anthropology, in which “classic” works are based on research in North America, Africa and Oceania. It also has to do with a strong area studies tradition fostered by lavish funding during the Cold, Korean and Vietnam war eras. Anthropologists who specialize in East Asia are, thus, more likely to publish with presses and journals that also specialize in the region, as opposed to anthropology per se. We tend to be rather parochial and nowhere more so than in Japan, where for many years a typical training arc has included at least a year of intensive language study, followed by research conducted under the auspices of a Japanese university or research institute, a path smoothed for most of the 20th century by funding made available by Japan’s extraordinary economic growth.

    Obsession with Japan does not leave much mind space for anything but distant, detached interest in racial issues in the USA. Recent years have seen a lot of interest in treatment of minorities in Japan, but the ideas are imported, domesticated and applied, for example, to Burakumin (Japanese outcastes) or Ainu (the aboriginal inhabitants of northern Japan). As far as I can see there seems to be little counterflow moving in the other direction.

  6. As I see it, there is a potential connection between the comment from “discuss white privilege” and John McCreery, which is a challenge to anthropology to become more inclusive in both the U.S. and to become less U.S.-centric as well. This is what I took to be outgoing AAA President Virginia Dominguez’s challenge to anthropology. Certainly there are dangers of linking these issues, as sometimes an international elite is allowed to stand-in for truly including internal others. However, at a time when scholars from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai are studying and sequencing African American genomes and talking about “admixture” and natural selection, it seems appropriate to consider these issues together.

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