Negotiating Publishing Practices

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In a recent special issue on academic publishing in the Chronicle Review (June 12th, 2009), Ellen Baurle (a senior editor with University of Michigan Press) has an interesting article titled "Women as Authors: Get Aggressive." She considers the differences between women and men in academic publishing. Her argument is that women's disadvantage relates to their participation in the practices, processes, and social relationships of publishing. In other words, the practices that surround publishing are as important as the texts we submit for publication. Though her observations relate to monograph publishing, I think there are implications for journal articles as well.  These are some of the points she observes from her experience in the publishing field:

Women are reluctant to sound off editors on the publishing prospect of their work. Baurle says that women are usually apologetic when they discuss publishing prospects with editors. They feel they are being too pushy or are wasting the editor's time. They don't realize that discussing prospects with editors is very much expected in the field and appreciated by editors.

Women are diffident to show incomplete manuscripts or works in progress in order to gain contracts. They feel that they have to wait till they have a more complete and polished draft for submission. However, Baurle argues "those who wait will probably receive their contracts later than those who were willing and able to send partial manuscripts for refereeing, and that tends to delay promotion at many colleges."

Women are less likely to serve in roles such as reviewers or consultants. They might find it difficult to manage such service with their other commitments, including those to their families. They may also consider such service as too low stakes for institutional credit. However, serving in such roles helps one get an insider perspective on the publishing process. More importantly, it helps one network with others in the field and in publishing circles. These contacts help one considerably in leveraging one's work into print. Baurle also reminds us: "Many editors would suggest that refereeing is a way of adding one's views and experience to the scholarly conversation --a way of getting one's voice heard, even if indirectly."

Related to the above problem, women are more focused on their own field and don't seem to develop a broader perspective on their work and related fields. Because of this narrow outlook, they have a localized network of scholars and professionals. Baurle feels that men have a broader network of connections. The implication is that if one enjoys a broad network, the scholar will be introduced to editors and senior scholars making decisions on publishing. They will also introduce more of their friends and collaborators to the powers that be. Baurle observes: "Those introductions are often the start of fruitful long-term relationships: Some contacts become authors, but just as important, others become referees, series editors, or disciplinary experts. They also have somewhat improved odds of being published, in that closer contact with presses means they will be likelier to know about new publishing opportunities (like new subject areas or series) or closed opportunities (discontinued series, departing editors) no longer worth chasing."

In general, men are more confident, outgoing, and pushy, thus gaining valuable connections and experiences relevant for negotiating their work into print. The moral is obvious: "Both women and men would be well advised to consider knowledge of publishing venues, editors, and series as a standard part of their professional tool kits."


As I read this insightful article, I couldn't help but wonder how other disadvantaged groups in publishing also suffer from similar limitations and attitudes. I am thinking especially of multilingual scholars from the geopolitical periphery. I could see myself as a young scholar from unknown Sri Lanka struggling to publish. I did feel diffident to approach editors or senior scholars to talk about my work. My feeling was that I was too junior and lacked credentials to warrant face time with an editor. I also often thought it was unprofessional to talk to someone about my work. I thought publishing operates in an impersonal fashion, based purely on merit, that talking to an editor about my work will be construed as unethical lobbying.

Periphery authors also suffer from a lack of productive scholarly networks. How can one build friendships and connections when traveling to conferences in North America or Europe is not easy? Air fare, hotel accommodation, and conference registration involve expenses that are simply too high for scholars in many countries. As they are not known widely in the field, they don't get consulted on areas that they are experts on. As a junior scholar, I have seen some senior scholars with connections being invited to contribute articles on language teaching or policy relating to periphery communities. I have seen this happen even in refereed journals which should base publishing decisions on blind review. I particularly remember a call for articles on a special topic issue on language planning in a leading international journal. My article based on painstaking fieldwork in Sri Lanka was rejected. When the issue was eventually published, I found that the authors who made it into print were senior scholars who didn't have anything new to say or didn't have new research to present. I doubt they went through the tedious process of submitting an abstract, making the short list, and then writing multiple drafts for peer review. As a senior scholar now, I see how some journals invite me to send a piece to a special issue, outside the peer review process. Networking has even greater bearing on collected editions or handbooks. Though these collections claim to be definitive of the knowledge in the field, contributions are based on friendships and connections.

As for taking up invitations to serve as referees or peer reviewers, periphery scholars have other constraints. In many countries, the remuneration from their work is not enough to support their families. Therefore, they have to do extra work to earn more money. Periphery universities also expect a lot in terms of teaching and service. In some cases, publishing doesn't matter for promotion or tenure, and no allowance is made for such pursuits. Such conditions prevent periphery scholars from giving time for other areas of service in the publishing process.

More importantly, like others in the academy, periphery scholars focus on writing and ignore networking. We have to educate everyone on the importance of participating in the other practices and processes of publishing. Even in graduate schools and apprenticeship programs, we see what Bruce Horner once called a "textual bias." These programs treat the research article as the focus of publishing and ignore the social practices that surround the scholarly text. Novice authors and minority scholars have to learn how to navigate the social processes and relationships involved in the publishing game. They have to realize the important implications networking and insider knowledge of publishing practices have in gaining a forum for their research and scholarship.

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Forwarded to me by Jiang Tianmin, who has asked me to post the comment on his behalf:

I am a novice researcher and teacher in the profession of ELT. I got my MA in 2002 with a major in translation studies from a foreign studies university in China and then in 2008, a postgraduate diploma in English Language Teaching in a Singapore university.

During my MA program, I was required to write academic papers in English (if my memory serves me right, Chinese was ok only for one course) since I was majored in English. There were disputes at that time, and at present as well, about writing academically in English or in Chinese, and there were many arguing that researchers, especially student researchers, should write in Chinese because, as they claimed, writing in a second or foreign language as English seriously hamper the quality of an academic paper. Getting papers published in an international journal was certainly plausible but getting them published in Chinese in local journals seemed more practical. This actually put us students in an embarrassing situation, we were trying desperately to write English papers which were viewed as of low quality by many teachers (to be frank, few of my MA teachers had had the experience of publishing their papers in international journals) and on the other hand, we were pressured to get at least one paper published so that we could graduate. Fortunately I had the course paper written in Chinese published in the second year of my MA program. Anyway, this was quite discouraging: many of my fellow students would write (in English) for the course, not in any way with the intention to publish, not to mention to contribute to the academia. The pressure of finishing the courses drove us to read literature in English while the pressure to publish, to translate. Some of my fellow students succeeded, but I failed since most of my reading at that time was in English and I found it almost impossible to put my papers satisfactorily in Chinese (one of the teachers suggested more than once that I should put one of my course paper and my graduation thesis in Chinese and get them published, I tried and immediately gave up). The diffidence injected by the teachers plus the ignorance of publication access and process held me back from even trying to send my manuscripts to any English-medium journals. It was until 2005, 3 years after my graduation, I began to send some chapters of my graduation thesis to English-medium journals and they were accepted. All these are good surprises to cheer me up, but not enough (Last year, when I was asked to be a guest editor of an English medium journal, I was more than terrified.

Some researchers in Hongkong researched about the trade-off of publishing in English and in Chinese as perceived by Chinese scholars, saying that many take “in Chinese” as their choice. In my opinion, besides the diffidence that haunts me, many scholars do perceive local and international publication differently. You talked about the pressure and motivation of publishing internationally, true. In the university where I work, and I think it is true from many, publishing in international journals with high impact factor is quite rewarding, in every sense of the word. However, such journals are confined to sci. Publishing in other journals, or non first tier journals is not rewarding, or better say, less rewarding than publishing in corresponding local journals. The two articles I mentioned above did not win me many academic credits. Besides this, many would think publishing internationally is more difficult than publishing locally. For them, the review process of international publications is stricter than that of local ones: for the former, the quality of the paper is the only factor while for the latter, there are factors other than quality, such as relations, money, etc, factors they can find ways to take care of. This may somehow account for the rampancy of plagiarism among Chinese scholars. So far, researches on plagiarism focuses on their English proficiency or cultural practices or ignorance of western academic practices, while less attention is given to its social dimensions. The saying “First tier scholars plagiarize from western scholars, second tier scholars, from scholars in Hongkong, third tier scholars, from each other” has been quite popular for some time. The close link between publication and tangible and intangible reward makes publication real “capital”, probably true for both east and west. However, the rigorousness of the western academia somehow secures the real value of publications while in China, many pay attention to only the face value of publications, and the lack of relevant regulations and punishments make it possible. Fortunately, things are becoming better now with more misconducts made public and punished. Still, such punishments, as criticized by some scholars, are not severe enough.

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This page contains a single entry by SURESH CANAGARAJAH published on July 30, 2009 12:22 PM.

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