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Ilana Gershon asked nine anthropologists for their approaches to the many daunting tasks of publishing an article in a journal, based on questions generated by Sandhya Narayanan. This installment explores the following question: 

When working on a book, what are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing the chapters individually as articles as you work on them? 

Deborah Gewertz: Those publishers I’ve worked with (Chicago, Cambridge, Yale, Westview, University of California, Bloomsbury) don’t like this. I’ve done it once or twice when I felt I needed to bulk up my CV earlier, rather than later.

Jason Jackson: While established authors are often given more leeway by presses, first-time authors seeking publication with a North American university press should, I think, be careful not to publish more than one or two articles that are destined to be chapters in an intended book. One can find plenty of contradictory evidence in the pages of university press books, but I have been in the room when university press editors discuss this among themselves. Could someone basically reassemble a version of the book as a stack of article PDFs? If so, justification for, and sales potential of, the book is lessened. If an author is in dialogue already with an acquisitions editor whom they hope will (or who has agreed to) publish their book, they should be sure to talk about this before the published articles stack up. I have seen book editors break off the relationship because of this. Communication is key. Editors are patient supportive people but like anyone they resent being blindsided needlessly.

The advantages would include more eyes on (and feedback for) the pre-published and published work as well as clear career advantages in things like hiring and employment review. Book acquisition editors generally have sympathy for these factors and are usually important advocates for not just your book but for your career. Working in partnership with them pays big dividends.

Daniel Monterescu: I think it’s essential to get your work published as articles before you get to compile the book manuscript. It’s also an implicit institutional necessity since a book takes years to write and edit. This is especially true for the first book when you also try to position yourself in the professional field and can’t afford to wait three years. My first book (Jaffa Shared and Shattered) indeed included some articles I reworked as book chapters. After being tenured, however, my second book (Twilight Nationalism) was submitted to the Stanford University Press without having published chapters individually as articles. In my third book in the making (Food and Borders) I have also published some materials as articles since food and wine studies is a new field for me.

Carolyn Rouse: I think that ethnographic books are different from ethnographic articles. Book ethnographies prove a theory or analytic by using vast amounts of experiential data to essentially show the reader. Article ethnographies prove a theory or analytic through condensed articulations of theory and engagement with extant literatures. The introductory chapter of books are often like articles, dense with theory and engagement with literatures. But the subsequent chapters of a book have a lot of—for lack of a better term—breathing room for the reader in the form of stories.

My suggestion to my graduate students is to not confuse a book chapter with an article. An article may use a bit of your fieldwork, but it must be theoretically or analytically robust. A book chapter, on the other hand, must be ethnographically robust.

If you understand the difference, there are a lot of advantages to building a journal article around a few ethnographic vignettes from your future book. Peer-reviewed journal articles are critical for tenure in most cases. But don’t give away the entirety of your book via published articles, otherwise professors may only assign your articles and not your book!

Janelle Taylor: I’m probably not the right person to answer this question, as I have been very focused on articles and haven’t published a book since 2008. My sense is that editors who might publish your book will want it to be all or mostly new stuff, not just published articles that have been packaged together. But the reality is that journal articles reach far more people, and can also serve to build up a buzz of interest in an eventual book. It’s something to discuss with your editor.

Claire Wendland: I’ve not actually done this, because I prefer to have a book’s chapters more interconnected than this strategy allows (for me anyway). The really big advantage is that the review process helps you to identify problems and connections that you might not have on your own. I prefer to get that feedback through presenting work in progress as talks, when possible.

Jessica Winegar: I think that publishing a book chapter as a seed article generates buzz about the book. I advocate for publishing the chapter that best captures the central argument of the book, in the highest profile venue possible. It can also be helpful to publish a second chapter in a different type of journal pitched to a different audience. For example, the seed article could be pitched to an anthropology journal, and a second chapter to an area studies journal. But keep in mind that most presses are wary of publishing first books with more than two previously published chapters.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer: For The Slumbering Masses, I basically dissembled the content of the dissertation and repurposed it as a set of articles and then proceeded to dissemble the articles and write the book. Only part of one chapter appeared as a slightly shortened version as an article. Otherwise, although a lot of the empirical content was the same, it appeared in very different ways in the book. Which is all to say that getting feedback on the article manuscripts was helpful, but not necessarily for the purpose of turning them into a book.

With Unraveling, I only sent out one piece that would later end up in the book—again, a shortened version of a chapter. It took longer to get through peer review than the book manuscript did and ended up coming out about six months before the book came out. A second piece got sent out when my editor told me I was 10,000 words over for the book manuscript, so I snipped out a roughly 10,000 word section of a chapter that could stand alone and got it under peer review. And then a third piece was assembled from some leftovers.

That set of experiences really has convinced me that books are books and articles are articles and parsing them out isn’t really worth it. Because I’m at a point career-wise that I don’t have to write articles for tenure or promotion, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to write books as books and save the article writing for putting together leftovers from the book writing process or writing to target specific audiences. Being able to conceptualize a book as a unified whole means that it can really be a different kind of object that a set of reworked articles.

If I can make a closing statement about publishing articles—and maybe books too—developing a certain level of disinterest in the process is vital. So often, we are encouraged to conceptualize our writing as an extension of our self: my research, my ideas, my style. Criticism of a manuscript in the form of editorial comments and peer reviews then feels like a criticism of us as a person. Paul Manning once described academic articles as the PowerPoint presentations of our business. I think about that a lot. At once, we’re told that publications are integral to our place in the profession, but then we’re also told that very few articles are ever read by anyone other than their peer reviewers. Academic publishing is kind of like playing the lottery—are you going to publish the thing that breaks from the pack and gets widely read and cited? You can try and play that game, but there are psychological and emotional costs, and being widely read and cited aren’t necessary for being hired or promoted or entry into the scholarly community. Dispassion is difficult to nurture, but going through peer review—and doing peer review—can be a step in the right direction.

Credit: Joanna Kosinska
Photograph of two pencils

Deborah Gewertz is the G. Henry Whitcomb Professor at Amherst College and has been an associate editor of American Ethnologist, Ethnos, and the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Jason Jackson is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Anthropology and Folklore at Indiana University, and the editor of Museum Anthropology Review.

Daniel Monterescu is associate professor of urban anthropology at Central European University.

Carolyn Rouse is chair of the Anthropology Department at Princeton University.

Janelle Taylor is a professor at University of Toronto.

Matt Tomlinson is an associate professor at Australian National University.

Claire Wendland is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Jessica Winegar is a professor at Northwestern and editor of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer is an associate professor at SUNY-Binghamton.


Ilana Gershon

Ilana Gershon is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University. Her most recent monograph is on corporate hiring in the United States—Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Cite as

Gershon, Ilana. 2021. “Book Chapters and Journal Articles.” Anthropology News website, August 6, 2021.