Article begins

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 does deciding an article’s home become important for you during the writing process? Do you write an article knowing the potential venue(s) that it might be published in or do you just write an article first and then figure out where it could be published?

Deborah Gewertz: I always have the premier journals in mind when I begin to write an article (American EthnologistAmerican Anthropologist, and JRAIJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute). This is to say, I begin by conceiving of an article of interest to all sociocultural anthropologists, not just regional specialists. If I convince myself that the article I envision might work in one of these journals, I consider word limits as they would delimit the article. Including bibliography and notes, the American Anthropologist allows 8,000 words; the American Ethnologist, 11,000 words; and JRAI, 10,000 words. If I come to the conclusion as I write that I have less to say to generalists than to specialists, I move to Oceania, allowing 10,000 words, or The Contemporary Pacific, 11,000 words. 

Jason Jackson: Except in instances in which a work was specifically requested by an editor (as sometimes happens when a collection on a particular theme is being developed), I do not recall ever beginning writing with a specific journal in mind, but I almost always have a small number likely candidates identified at the start and the first choice has usually become clear by the time the piece in being finalized. I have written articles to what I think of as completion and then considered a publishing home for them, but my usual tendency is to identify the journal later in the writing so that the final writing work can take the hoped-for venue into account. Maybe this strikes some kind of balance between journal instrumentalism and authorial idealism, but it just actually how things usually go for me.

Daniel Monterescu: Let me start with my general publishing strategy. From the outset, my strategy has been double: first, to engage my professional community of anthropologists, and second, to diversify my readership beyond the confines of the discipline and the English-speaking world. The first principle requires accommodating the specific discursive rules of the discipline promoted by key journals (such as, in my experience, American Ethnologist and to some extent Public Culture and Identities). While I rarely decided about the article’s home until fieldwork and some writing have been completed, in these cases I wrote the articles with an eye to these conventions, a process of discursive calibration which tightened during the revise and resubmit process and the exchange with the editor (see American Ethnologist’s “Tell the Story”).

In other cases, I sought to address other disciplinary audiences (for instance geographers, historians or sociologists in journals such as Ethnic and Racial StudiesInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and Comparative Studies in Society and History). Another key issue for me is that of language. As a non-native English speaker and as an Israeli anthropologist based in Europe who studies the Middle East, the main impact of my work has been in Israel/Palestine precisely because I continuously made an effort to go beyond the hegemony of English as lingua franca and publish in Hebrew and Arabic (as well as French and Italian) even though these languages are not considered essential to my academic promotion. Publishing with local journals such as Megamot and Theory and Criticism in Hebrew or Mada al-Karmel in Arabic was essential for my public engagement. Finally, I also write an urban blog for Ha’aretz (Hebrew and English) and work with French museums and journalists which allows me to address issues that don’t always fit the academic genre but interestingly reaches broader audiences.

Carolyn Rouse: You may decide an article’s home at any stage in the writing process. It is, however, more efficient to know ahead of time everything from a journal’s topical focus to word count to bibliography length restrictions. Knowing your intended audience as your argument takes shape also helps given that different subfields emphasize different literatures, different questions, and highlight different histories.

Janelle Taylor: It can work either way for me. Sometimes I just have an idea and forge ahead and write it, then figure out where I could send it. This kind of write-it-first approach only really works for humanities and social science venues; writing for medical audiences requires a different approach because the page limits are so much less and the format is very rigid. So in those cases, I’ll be writing it with a particular journal in mind, but usually it’s also coauthored, and some of my coauthors will be a lot more savvy about those venues and forms of writing.

Matt Tomlinson: Early in the writing process, I usually know where I want to submit an article. It gives me motivation—makes the text feel like it already has a presence in the world—and helps shape the developing tone, length, and other qualities of the piece.

Claire Wendland: I write a rough version of an article first. Once the main ideas are developed, I have a better sense of where it might fit, and at that point I begin to shape the article more specifically for the audience of that journal.

Jessica Winegar: Earlier in my career, I would stack my CV with lines like “x article to be submitted to x journal.” I quickly realized that this practice focused my aspirations on publishing in what I was told were top journals rather than on the substance of my work. (To search committee members, it can also look like unnecessary padding.) For me, I have found it better to do a rough first draft of a piece, work out my basic ethnography and arguments, and then mold it to a journal I think would be suitable. NB: This means looking carefully at the journal guidelines! This method builds an article foundation that I believe in and keeps my scholarly voice intact.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer: I start thinking about homes for articles pretty much as soon as I start writing them. As the structure of the piece starts to come together, I consider where I might send it and then continue to work on it with that journal—or a few journals that are similar in their generic requirements—in mind.

This has changed a lot for me over the last decade. Pre-tenure, I was really focused on publishing “enough” rather than publishing in specific journals. That led me to mostly publish in journals that I knew well and knew would be supportive of the kind of stuff I was working on. For me, that meant a lot of journals focused on medicine and the body. But it also included more intra- or interdisciplinary social science journals whose audiences I knew I could write for in compelling ways.

After tenure, I decided to target all of the flagship journals in cultural anthropology, particularly those hosted by AnthroSource. I would study a year’s worth of issues to get the formal elements of articles published in a particular journal down so that I could write to form. That necessarily also shaped the content—that is: Did it start with an ethnographic anecdote or not? How much of a literature review did articles have?—but it was all in the service of adhering to a particular generic form. At the time, I was also working with the archive of material that made up my dissertation, some of which ended up in The Slumbering Masses, but a lot of which ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. That allowed me to try and match specific kinds of outtakes and arguments with journal interests.

These days, where I send an article is more after-the-fact. I tend to write a talk each year—either a colloquium talk or a set of conference papers that, once strung together, make up a long-form talk—that ends up turning into an article. Once I have it in hand, I think through the various journals it might fit with. Because generic forms at journals are pretty glacial in how they change, the work I did in studying journals continues to pay off.

One of the things I’ve learned that no one ever taught me is to pay close attention to who the editor of a journal is when you’re considering submitting something to it. Because my work can be a little unconventional, both topically and content-wise, I’ve found that identifying editors that are sympathetic to the kinds of projects I do helps a lot. It means they know the right reviewers to ask and that they know how to work with the reviews they receive.

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 EthnologistEthnos 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 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. “Choosing a Journal Home.” Anthropology News website, August 3, 2021.