April 2008 Archives

The question came from a graduate student in our “How to Publish” session at the TESOL convention last week. She asked, “How can we know the ideological biases of journals so that we can send our articles to the appropriate venue?” The 15 or so editors on the podium remained silent for a minute, taken off guard, before we managed to say something to avoid the question. The truth is that though we will insist that our journals are ideologically neutral and that our decisions are purely based on merit, journals inevitably acquire identities and positions of their own. Even if they don’t have settled identities for all times, journals do adopt particular directions and tendencies at specific times that characterize them ideologically. Sometimes, this happens by default—by the types of articles they have failed to publish than by the ones they have made an effort to include.  Even if editors are not conscious of it, readers can sense the ideological drift of particular journals. Of course, some journals have taken very explicit stances for polemical reasons. I can list the journals that have taken a cognitivist orientation in Second Language Acquisition and published articles that relate only to that orientation. Can journals that take pride in their double-blind review and scholarly objectivity have ideological commitments?

 

This question hit me personally when I took up the editorship of TQ four years back. I had just sent an article to be reviewed by a leading scholar in form-focused teaching and cognitivist orientation to language acquisition. He returned the manuscript, saying he refused to referee articles for TQ as he objected to its politics. “What politics?” I protested. Failing to get any specifics, I imagined he was referring to the social turn in TQ and in many other journals in our field. We had recently published articles on critical orientations to language acquisition and teaching. I assured him that my policy was to give voice to any and every worthy research orientation and that I intended to be inclusive. After all, it is difficult for a journal to be a leader in the field without representing the diverse tendencies in the profession and publishing the best and most rigorous studies that point to challenging new directions. The scholar refused to buy my protestations of objectivity and impartiality.

 

Just a month back, I was confronted with the same question from a surprising source. This time, it was from a scholar who has taken a contrarian view on the form-focused teaching of the other scholar. He asked me how I could have published many articles on form-focused teaching and cognitivist orientation to acquisition when, according to his perspective, “there is not a shred of evidence to support their validity.” He has made it a mission in his life to wipe out the position of the other scholar. I told him that it is TQ’s intention to give voice to the diverse tendencies in our profession so that we can explore all of them to construct more explanatory models. He considered this objectivity and neutrality reckless. He charged me of ignoring the students in favor of scholarly inquiry. He argued that it is dangerous to publish articles belonging to the opposite position as students will suffer from bad pedagogies and teaching recommendations.

 

In a sense, I am happy that these scholars representing two warring schools in TESOL feel that TQ belongs to the rival’s camp. This realization should help cancel out each other’s charge and prove that TQ does have a sense of balance. On the other hand, the claim that TQ and the editor are neutral is somewhat uncomfortable for me. This is especially so as I have identified myself as a critical practitioner. I have argued that it is impossible not to take social and ideological positions on teaching. Even refusing to take a position is an ideology in its own right.

 

How then do I reconcile my critical stance and the need to keep the journal open to unfettered inquiry? I would argue that this desire to keep TQ open to diverse theoretical and pedagogical paradigms itself derives from my critical values. The missions I have articulated for my editorship  in a very public way—such as making the journal more international, mentoring offnetworked and novice authors into publishing, and accommodating new forms of research methods and writing conventions in the journal—similarly derive from a critical perspective. I admit that these objectives represent a politics of a sort, and critics have a right to object to this direction of the journal. Though these objectives and directions make TQ ideological, they are ideological in a democratizing and inclusive way. Journals and editors may also adopt commitments that narrow down the journal to a specific orientation or inquiry. These ideologies are disempowering and exclusionist. So, it is not whether a journal has an ideology or not, but whether its commitments further or limit inquiry that is the question. Does this distinction help clarify how journals may have an ideological grounding and still be open to inquiry?

 

I need some help to think through this dilemma. How can an editor own up his/her commitments and values and still keep the journal open to constructive inquiry? What kind of politics does TQ represent?

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