Success in publishing defined by quality? Anthropology Matters on "The Politics of Publishing"
The new issue of Anthropology Matters - one of the few anthropology online journals is out. The topic is "The Politics of publishing" - a topic that has been widely debated on anthropology blogs: Mostly, the internet was discussed as an alternative (or additional sphere) to publishing in journals because it's easier and (generally) cheaper to share knowledge online.
The three papers on the culture, cosmology and social organisation of the publishing industry are fascinating reading. One of the main points are summed up in the introduction by Ian Harper and Rebecca Marsland. We often take for granted that only the best articles are published in academic journals. This is wrong, they argue. Success in publishing is not so much defined by academic quality, as your ability to network:
Access to publishing is highly dependent on personalized networks - a situation that can leave postgraduate anthropologists out in the cold. The chances of your paper being published are dictated by two or more peer reviewers, in a peer review process entangled in personal connections and agendas, and shrouded in personal opinion and perhaps some mysticism.
Therefore, Ronnie Frankenberg, tells in an interview, stressing the social aspects of publishing:
Publishing a paper requires the same kind of research as when you apply for a job actually. Then you would find out about the department, and the other people there, and what their interests are, and what they've done. You stand a much better chance of getting a paper published if you've read at least one issue of the journal, if you've looked at what the editor's interests are, if you've looked on the internet at what the aims are.
And it's of course important which journals you're going to choose. There are hierarchies, dominated by the US publications. An anthropologist colleague who wanted to publish in a journal produced in Nepal was told by his supervisor not to waste his time, and to start thinking about publishing in serious journals, Harper and Marsland write ( >> read more on the experiences of running a journal in Nepal)
About the US, Daniel Miller writes:
The US system is heavily biased towards giving tenure to academics who have published in a few key journals rather than publishing per se. (...) With books the situation can be even worse. The same tenure system prioritizes certain publishers rather than others.
Additionally, the US system is "incredibly insular" according to Ronnie Frankenberg in an interview with Christine Barry:
I mean they are quite likely to publish articles from Eastern Europe and Latin America as a matter of principle, but unless a paper is by someone very famous from England or France it's not going to be given very top priority.
So you mean even if it gets favourable reviews they still might not publish it.
Miller points in his paper Can't publish and be damned to the issue of commercialisation of knowledge. He criticizes that "academic reputation has been outsourced to commercial interests". The market is dominated by few publishers. The number of independent UK presses that twenty years ago published anthropology either no longer exist or have been bought out. He continues:
The problem is that there are far more manuscripts that can properly claim to be worth publishing on academic grounds than can be sold as commercial successes. Berg, as most presses today, including university presses, is essentially a commercial organization that survives only to the degree to which it remains profitable.
Some absolutely brilliant scholarly and wonderful books simply have not sold. There are plenty that are successful, but the evidence is that the sales often do not correlate with scholarly quality or originality. A textbook without much of either may outsell an exemplary monograph. So the bottom line is that there are many manuscripts that on academic grounds ought to be published but are not commercially viable, and that may include your intended masterpiece.
The response on the call for papers for this special edition on the politics of publishing was low, the editors write and wonder:
We pride ourselves on our disciplinary self-reflexivity, yet it is odd that these issues have not been unpacked more.
This reminds me of an earlier article by Kerim Friedman on Open Access Anthropology:
Concerns over the ethical dilemmas involved in producing knowledge about the “other” have, in the past few decades, radically changed how anthropologists conduct research and write ethnographies. Unfortunately, they have not changed how we publish. Do we want our intellectual contributions to be hidden in dusty archives, or available to anyone who can Google?