The following is a guest post by Daniel Laurison.
There are three things that bug me about the ASA conference submission system. I want to tell you briefly about each of them, and then what I’m trying to do about one of them. Over the years since I started really paying attention to ASA (sometime in 2007 or 2008, I think) I’ve asked many people over various media if they have an argument FOR any of these three elements of the system, and haven’t heard anything that convinced me, but I am entirely open to the fact that I’m missing something.
(TL;DR = I’m going to accept extended abstracts at my session on elites at ASA 2020; I hope other session organizers will do the same; if you’re on board, go to bit.ly/AbstractsASA)
- The timing (so soon after New Year’s, usually). This means many people who teach a full load in the fall semester and then want to take a little break between finishing finals and New Year’s, say, are either rushing to prepare/finish something by early-mid January, or have to submit something old, or just skip it. Of course, people COULD just prepare something before winter break, but A) many people teach 3 or 4 courses or more in the fall and I don’t know how you do substantial research/writing while also teaching that much and B) some of us work to deadlines.
- Best argument (I know of) FOR the early deadline: ASA staff apparently insist they need this much time between submission and the conference to make everything work.
- My response: many conferences have 6 months between submission and conference; even getting it down to 6.5 months would make many people’s January much better/make it more possible for people to submit.
- The number of possible sessions to submit to (200+ if I’m remembering right, divided between “regular” and “section” sessions with sometimes near-identical topics). First, this means that there is enormous variation in how many papers are submitted to each session, and thus how competitive each session is – I once organized a session that only had four papers submitted, so I accepted them all; I’ve heard of people getting up to 100 or more submissions for a single session. Second, it’s time-consuming to sort through all the possible sessions a given paper could fit into – and there have been a number of years where there was NO obvious single session for a project I was working on.
- Best argument (I know of) FOR this is about section autonomy – there is certainly something to be said for the sections having the freedom to organize their sessions how they want to, and then if they’re going to do that then it might make sense for there to be some non-section sessions to make sure topics that aren’t in any section, or that cross sections, or that are timely or topical, get included.
- My response: I think a FAR better system would be how political science does it – each section accepts papers on its topic, and THEN sorts them into panels; there is a single “everything else” pool for papers that really don’t clearly fit into one of the sections. Committees could sort through papers for each section, rather than individual organizers. I understand the desire to decide in advance to have specify session themes within sections, but I don’t think it’s worth the inefficiency.
- The full-length-paper requirement. This seems to be the thing that there’s the most consensus about, and is the thing I can do something about this year. My understanding of the point of presenting a paper at a conference is A) to give yourself an external deadline by which to have a new project in presentable shape and B) to get feedback on that new project. Presumably if you can write an full paper in January, you would like feedback before August. The early deadline makes the full paper requirement even more onerous, but I think it’s silly regardless. Ideally, we’d have a conference-wide extended-abstract due in LATE January, and then maybe a full-paper (or detailed slideshow?) deadline a week or two before the conference.
- Best argument (I know of) FOR this is about making sure people don’t present half-baked research at the conference, or drop out because they don’t have anything to present because whatever they thought they would do didn’t happen.
- My response: I’d rather see half-formed ideas presented than “here’s a summary of this work that’s already published/under review and I don’t want to talk about anymore” which is the risk with the full papers. And it’s much more useful to me as a scholar to present and get feedback on early work, generally. (And if I want to present already-done-ish work I can still do that if I don’t submit a full paper in January.)
What we’re doing about it:
So this year I was asked to organize the Regular Session on Elites, and I was about to say no because all the reasons, when I realized that if I do it, I can do something about #3, the full paper. SO, for my session, I’m accepting extended abstracts as well as full papers. There are already at least 4 other session organizers on board, and I’m hoping lots more of us will do this. Benefits, as I see them, are:
- I get to read shorter things as I’m deciding what to accept – this would also, if implemented conference-wide, potentially facilitate a shorter turnaround time between when organizers get papers and when they have to decide, although I think the time is longer than it needs to be even for full papers.
- The early deadline can be less of a challenge for folks who can’t/don’t work on their ASA papers in the fall semester
- People can submit work that’s really in-progress, and continue working on it all year.
Disadvantages of this organizer-by-organizer, ad-hoc approach:
- If your first-choice panel is extended-abstract and your 2nd-choice panel isn’t, you still have to write a full paper to be sent along to your 2nd choice (or hope your 2nd choice is sympathetic to the extended-abstract movement).
- Some people might not hear about this and then it’s kind of unfair. My solutions to that:
- I won’t *penalize* anyone who submits a full paper to my session
- I’ll do everything I can to publicize this, including putting it in the session description if ASA will let me
Are you organizing a session and want to sign on, or considering it? Please fill out this form: bit.ly/AbstractsASA
Want an email when all the sessions doing this are known? Please fill out this form: bit.ly/EmailAbstractList
Daniel Laursion is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Swarthmore College.