publishing: ask a scatterbrain*

Some questions on publishing:

What are the politics of publishing? Which journals are professional brass rings? Are there journals that might accept my articles but at the same time are so unrespected that publishing in them is tantamount to admitting I’m a lousy academic? The impact factor is one way to go about it but my sense is that it is not sensitive to the preferences of different subfields in sociology. Finally, how do universities and other professionals view mainstream publications?

* – for some reason I am thinking of discontinuing this series. I’m not sure why. But I’m not going to make a unilateral decision. I’ll construct a poll about that later. So stay tuned.

16 thoughts on “publishing: ask a scatterbrain*”

  1. Some quick responses: In sociology, ASR and AJS are the most visible. As electronic article databases grow, I’m sort of expecting to see their dominance decline, but we’ll see. Outside the top two, there are general journals that are also good outlets, and specialty journals. I don’t think there are any journals for which a publication is a minus, although publishing a bad article can be a minus. You figure out where to send an article by reading what’s in the journal and imagining whether your article would fit in there. That is, would the people who publish in that journal find your article interesting? Note that writing for a general sociological audience is different from writing for a specialty audience: it is about how you pitch the paper.


  2. I suspect that, if you’ve hit ASR, AJS, SF, ASA-sponsored speciality journals, etc., then publishing work in “lesser” journals is less of a liability than if that’s all you do. Having said that, only publishing in so-called “lesser” journals is not a bad thing, is it? Are we saying that a hard-working academic who consistenly publishes in lower-tier (but peer-reviewed none-the-less) journals is somehow not making a contribution to the field?


  3. IMO not “bad” to publish only in lower-tier journals. Top-20 departments (or top 20 wannabes) will want to see some publications in top-tier journals and if that is your target (or your employer) you do have to worry about publishing only in lower tier journals if you want tenure. But the vast majority of practicing sociologists work in places other than top-20 departments. I do think there are some articles that are so badly done that they don’t make a contribution, but that is different from saying that there are stigmatized journals that you should not publish in. And most of us can pick out at least one ASR/AJS article that we’d nominate for being so badly done that it is a negative contribution.


  4. It is true that there are top-20 departments that allow for “book” people as well as “article people,” no? These seem to permit the substitution of a well-regarded book (or 2) instead of AJS/ASR pieces. These seem to be private more than public schools, though that’s just a hunch.
    I also have been struck in recent months that students concerned over whether they are considered to be book/article people when they go on the market.
    Any general or specific thoughts on whether faculty think about this when deciding on whether a potential hire is a good match?


  5. At the risk of getting eggs thrown at me (and of coming off like an ass), I think that sometimes advice posts on any blog can turn into anxiety production machines.

    The ideal answers are obvious, are they not? “Publish a lot. In top-tier journals. Before you go on the market. And then all the time thereafter. Be well-liked. Be social – but not too social. Do good work. Be excellent. None of this is enough.”

    It might just be where I am in my academic career, but the constant exhortations to be as awesome as possible… well, it’s crazymaking. Sorry, it is. Maybe that says more about me than anything. I love you all, I really do.


  6. why is it crazy-making abarian? The question was asked and answered. C’est la vie. Is there some other answer you would prefer? :-)


  7. I agree with abarian, which is why I’ve been thinking of discontinuing the series. I think there is a difference between some of the advice questions (how do you deal with problems with your adviser) and others (how do you publish and where): for the former the answer isn’t as “clear” as the latter. So I may also simply change the kinds of questions I put up here. We’ll see…


  8. re books: yes there are book departments and in many(not all) departments, publishing a book “counts” too. But just like journals, there are more prestigious and less prestigious presses.

    Re the point abarian and shakha make, it is hard to figure out how to balance telling people stuff about how the system works and not feeding into anxieties. Maybe that itself could be a question for the readership? The problem everyone has to face is how to stay centered in a competitive society and a competitive profession. Not everybody “wins” the prize of wealth or tenure at a “top” department, but lots of people have good and satisfying lives doing a job that is meaningful to them and making connections with family and community. Does this mean that we should think less about how the competitive system works? Maybe. It certainly means that sanity involves centering one’s life somewhere else than in a competitive work system.


  9. I concur on certain kinds of advice adding more pressure than information. (I should publish in AJS? Really? Why, I’ll just get on that then!)

    At the same time, some of the things that have come up in these threads have been non-obvious [to me anyway] and helpful; for example, the etiquette of approaching people at conferences. It made me nervous I might inadvertently be That Guy, but it also taught me some useful things about how not to be.

    Sometimes these points are helpful because they draw out the parts of what we value in each other in an academic environment — as students and colleagues — that is *not* about the prestige of our work. The post on how to be a grad student advisors want to work with is a good example. I appreciate discussions like that, and also about how to think about work itself; for example, the posts Kieran Healy has done elsewhere about how to think about your computing system have been very helpful for me. I would love to have more glimpses into the thought processes and work patterns of people who have learned how to produce good work.

    But that’s different, I think, from discussions about how to maximize status and prestige in the discipline. I find those addictive, but probably more harmful then helpful. Just my two cents.


  10. I think that OW, once again, is onto the issue. The status hierarchy is such that giving this sort of advice is a challenge. Those in the top departments work in a world where the expectations are much more (though not totally) agreed upon. The expectations are clearer there, and so these folks speak with confidence and clarity.

    Those of us outside the world of Top 20 (or so–I’m not quite sure that’s where the line should be), work in a world that is much more uncertain about expectations. I have not been a professor for too long, but my experiences at two institutions show that there is very little agreement about candidates, beyond the easy questions about ASR/AJS, top specialty journals, and so on. In this world, lots of different sorts of publications are impressive to varying degrees, but no path can be in any way a guarantee of success. I can’t imagine any of us without a few folks in mind with what we consider better records than others who are more successful than them on the job market.

    So, speaking for myself as someone in the latter sort of work, but imagining that this is somewhat generalizable, I am more hesitant to give advice, because in my experience, there are no answers that are consistently right. Different people reviewing vitaes use different metrics against which to measure impressiveness. So, I’m more quiet on these posts, and I think that leaves a bias in the “ask a” threads toward our Top 20 friends.


  11. Reading this thread, it seems to me that a good “ask scatterplot” question might be something like: What can folks from the small liberal arts colleges and the state schools that are not “top 20” departments (or not PhD programs) tell me about how things work in their departments and how I might go about being prepared to get such a job and succeed in such a job? Or another useful thread might be to encourage folks to post topics and themes that arise from the experiences in non-PhD programs.

    My first job was in a non-PhD department where there were both pluses and minuses, and I was expecting to stay there forever until I was asked to apply to the R1 where I am now on the basis of something I wrote. So I have never thought there is no life outside the “top 20” and I do still remember what it was like at my first job. This was however a long time ago. I remember that at that job, any publication in any venue was a publication, and peer-reviewed conferences papers also “counted.” I still remember what it was like to teach four classes a term and to have research expectations in an environment that did not provide a lot of support for research. But I’ve been here long enough that my everyday worldview is of course shaped by my more recent experiences.


  12. p.s. To be clear: even though I’m ambivalent about the effects of certain kinds of advice, I do REALLY appreciate the effort of those who provide such advice. I know that everybody doing this is trying to contribute to making academia fairer.


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