On Spreading It Around

by Jonathan Sterne on February 6, 2009

I took a grad seminar in Sociological Theory and the prof wanted to make a point about prestige and academic journals. He asked students if they could name the scholar who in the current generation is the most published in the American Journal of Sociology. Names of famous sociologists flew around the room. The prof smiled and gave us the name of the man who currently held the honor. Nobody in the room had heard of him, and (thus, obviously) nobody could think of a single intellectual contribution he’d made to the field.

david silver February 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm

it would be interesting to ask the same question to today’s grad students. and it would be even more interesting to ask the same question to tomorrow’s grad students. my guess is that they would be like, “what’s an academic journal?”

Jonathan February 7, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I think it could go either way. The number of academic journals is increasing, not decreasing, as is the need to publish for people who occupy professorial positions outside traditional research universities. In order for journals to go away, I think you’d need two things to happen: major works of scholarship to need start appearing in other forms (and by major I mean work that influences other scholars, rather than just those in the authors’ own networks–as of yet I’ve seen this happen with online journals like First Monday or open access journals like CJC but I can’t think of a work of scholarship in any of the fields where I read that has yet achieved influence outside of a “journal” or “book” framework; I’m sure it will happen at some point) AND you’d need senior faculty who control the criteria for tenure, promotion and merit to start valuing alternative venues for publication (again, hasn’t happened at research schools but probably will at some point). The only exception I can think of right now is work of facilitation or compilation– THAT kind of digital humanities is getting recognition and having influence: RCCS, the eserver, Voice of the Shuttle, etc.

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