asr comparative historical reviewer guidelines

Last month, ASR announced they would be publishing guidelines for reviewers of qualitative, theoretical, and comparative/historical papers. Today, draft versions of the historical guidelines were released (pdf version). Here’s the message that Monica Prasad posted on the CHS list today along with the guidelines:

“The committee to draft guidelines for comparative historical sociology articles in ASR has finished its work, and the draft guidelines are attached here. The committee consisted of Richard Lachmann (chair), Greta Krippner, George Steinmetz, Melissa Wilde, Nicholas Hoover Wilson, and Xiaohong Xu. Thank you to the committee for doing such an excellent job, and let’s all hope that the end result is more fabulous CHS articles in ASR!”

I’d love to know what you all think of them.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

4 thoughts on “asr comparative historical reviewer guidelines”

  1. As a quantitative person who mostly doesn’t do CHS, this seems to me like a good set of questions and guidelines for article evaluation. Two reactions:
    1. The guidelines often oppose themselves to standards for “quantitative papers.” For instance in the first paragraph and in point 6 (saying comparative historical papers cannot achieve the “compression” common in quantitative papers). This makes it sounds like CHS is by definition not quantitative. But aren’t there papers that are quantitative and comparative historical? Indeed, point 5 says “excellent historical sociology is quantitative or qualitative”, somewhat contradicting the text at other points that opposes quantitative and CHS. Are these standards only for non-quantitative CHS? It feels like different members of the committee who wrote this were on different pages on this, and the contradiction was not resolved in the text.
    2. As I read the guidelines, I find that almost everything that is a guideline would be reasonable to apply to a manuscript in most other areas of sociology, including demography or quantitative survey research. For instance the first sentence “Comparative historical sociology papers can make a claim to significance either with reference to existing (already well defined) areas of theoretical exploration in the discipline or to genuine historical puzzles of broad significance.” Substitute “social science puzzles” for “historical puzzles” and I think you could say the same for almost any paper in sociology. Or point 5 “Papers should be judged on whether the authors’ chosen methods are appropriate for the problem they have set for themselves.” I agree. Is there any area of sociology for which we don’t want this? Where the standards oppose themselves to other areas of work, I think the vision of other areas is an oversimplification. For instance saying unlike research using variables the focus of CHS is to “unpack the complex configuration of social forces intersecting to produce a particular outcome or event.” But there are a number quantitative papers that use variables to attempt to understand “complex configurations” of causes. Perhaps the only really specific criteria to CHS is also the shallowest, point #6 on article length. Weirdly, I feel like the CHS standards make me doubt we really need separate standards for CHS articles compared to other areas.

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    1. Excellent points. In re: your first point, I think there is a deep confusion in methodological discussions about kinds of *data* and kinds of *argument*. I think there is something different about the kinds of arguments comparative/historical papers (sometimes) make from the typical present-focused ASR, but that difference is somewhat separate from the question of what sort of data the paper mobilizes.

      To just be Sewellian for a second, most (but not all!) present-focused ASR papers implicitly rely on an experimental temporality where the data are treated as an example of some effectively timeless phenomenon. In contrast most (but not all) historical papers invoke a more eventful (or occasionally teleological) temporality, treating past events as marking ruptures in various kinds of trends or structures. But that temporal orientation is only loosely related to the kind of data mobilized (and even the kinds of statistical techniques used to analyze the data, if quantitative). You can run regressions to make an eventful historical argument (though we only rarely do so, usually for good reasons).

      So, I think what’s happening with these guidelines (as a consequence of the broader disciplinary confusion) is a smashing together of two distinctions: between kinds of data (quantitative/variables-y and qualitative/narrative-y) and kinds of arguments (eventful vs. experimental).

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  2. I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days. I do write mostly Comparative Historical Sociology, and Social Theory, but have never published in ASR (or AJS or SF, or any of the four sociological regional journals for that matter). So I guess I’m the type of scholar that this memo is aimed at. As it is, I see my writing as more suited to books and open access internet journals, both of which I hope are accessible to search engines like Google Scholar. ASR doesn’t in my mind meet this criteria very well.

    But the real reason I do not publish in the big sociology journals is that, I do not submit to them. Nor do they ask me to review for them, or do book reviews. And this is ok. What they have published in the past does not reflect my interests, so why send my work there? There are plenty of publishers (both journals and book publishers) who do publish the things I read and write, so why submit to such journals where I am likely to get a rejection, and even if it did move along and eventually get published, does not have a readership which I seek to address?

    When assessing where to send a manuscript, I usually look at what I read, and I haven’t read ASR or AJS regularly for the last ten years (I did read Sociological Perspectives fairly regularly when I was on the editorial board, but have since dropped that habit). What academic literature do I read? Well, books, and articles that are referenced in blogs (like Scatterplot), articles which turn up on Google Scholar, my Academia.edu feed, and other such source. I am more likely to read things without paywalls, though will occasionally retrieve something from my university’s subscription list.

    From this perspective, I guess ASR seems so, well, 20th century. Like all the other traditional academic journals, I sense that they are appealing to a smaller and smaller audience of R1 universities, wannaabe R1s, and the specialists in quantitative data sets, who are able to “frame” an academic question well using that type of data. This is fine—but without open access, and good indexing via internet search engines, I think that ASR is likely to remain an isolated albeit respected home for a fairly narrow type of sociological research. And I guess, that is fine with me!

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  3. As a non-sociologist (political science), it is slightly curious to see that CHA gets its own review guidelines. After so many publications on CHA during the last 15 years, I would have thought that most sociologists are familiar with CHA and its characteristics. Maybe there is some discontent of CHA scholars behind this who found it difficult to get into ASR. At least, this was the situation with American Political Science Review and qualitative methods some years ago. APSA does not have specific qualitative review guidelines, as far as I know, but the Section on Qualitative and Multimethod Research created a best-qualitative-paper-submitted-to-APSR award to encourage qualitative submissions to APSR. One could wonder whether specific CHA guidelines are needed because a fair review process should be guaranteed by having CHA submissions reviewed by CHA scholars. But compiling guidelines does not hurt either.

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