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Ilana Gershon asked six 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:

How would you approach the process of publishing something in a non-anthropological journal? What are some strategies to think about prior to submitting an article for review?

Deborah Gewertz: I published a very personal article in my college’s glossy magazine. It was well-received and remains more gratifying to think about than pieces I have published in anthropology’s top journals. It would not have counted toward tenure, nor should it have. If I had published in the likes of National Geographic, my colleagues would congratulate me and the tenure and promotion committee, take positive note. This said, it would not be counted (much) toward tenure.

Jason Jackson: As is true with an anthropology journal to which you might submit, it is really important to learn about the journal and its community over time. If you have never read the journal before, ask yourself why? It is really good to move into new areas and to establish new ties, but your chances of success will be diminished if you just send an article to journal that you know little about. Editors can recognize such submissions immediately, and more often than not, they are not received well. You are asking to join a conversation that is already in progress. This requires preparation. If you have colleagues in that other field, consulting with them would be great. Copublishing with them would usually be even better.

Janelle Taylor: I think how you approach it will depend on the specifics of where you are aiming to publish. The non-anthropological journals I’m most familiar with are in medicine and the health sciences—I’ve published in journals of palliative care, geriatrics, nephrology, medical education, and so on. In medicine-land (unlike anthropology-land), most articles are multiple-authored, so the process starts long before you send anything out for publication, it starts already when you are doing the research, or even before that when you are applying for grants. Anthropologists are kind of weirdly solo in their research and writing practices, whereas most research in health sciences is team-based. In anthropology-land I think there has been a tendency to look askance at coauthored work—like, “what’s the matter, weren’t you smart enough to write it by yourself, you had to get all these other people to help you?” In health sciences, it’s completely the opposite, and if you try to publish a single-authored article it will be looked at as rather strange—like, “what’s the matter, couldn’t you get anyone behind you, you had to publish this all by yourself?” Everything is the same but completely opposite in terms of what it means and how it’s used. For example, in anthropology-land we tend to think of the acknowledgements as the place where we repay our debts. But in medicine-land, using someone’s name means that they on some level endorse your project, and so for most journals you have to get formal signed permissions from people before you are allowed to name them in your acknowledgements. I don’t know how things work in other kinds of fields; it may work in some whole other way.

Matt Tomlinson: I look at their issues over the past few years to make sure my article would fit in and include discussions of some of their previously published articles in order to demonstrate the fit.

Claire Wendland: Select a published article from your target journal and break it apart: look for how the authors use structure, language, and evidence to build their article. The process will give you some sense of the kind of work that’ll be legible to editors and readers of the journal. This process works for anthropology journals too. The first time I submitted to a really high-prestige journal, I took an article from it that I thought was kind of mediocre and analyzed it in this way. At the end I thought “well I can do that.” It really helped to overcome the intimidation factor.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer: Over the last couple of years, I’ve started publishing in bioethics journals. I read a lot in bioethics and teach some of it with regularity, but it was with trepidation that I started to target publishing in bioethics. Formally, the articles are very different, and the content can be pretty different too. I set about reading through a couple volumes each of a few of the bioethics journals and then wrote to their expectations. After years of writing for anthropologists, it was kind of refreshing to write for a different kind of audience—and to get totally different kinds of peer reviews! I learned pretty quickly that bioethicists are up for a disagreement, they just want to have the disagreement be robustly argued. So I received peer reviews that were like “I totally disagree with this position, but the evidence is compelling and you should publish it,” which I honestly can’t imagine getting from an anthropological audience.

Bioethics as a field is also really in need of anthropological thinking, and there’s a recurrent call from a small set of critical bioethicists that bioethics needs more empirical research (and more capacious ethical frameworks), so it seemed like a real opportunity and challenge to address that. We’ll see what comes of it, but increasingly I see targeting bioethics journals over anthropology journals for a lot of my work.

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

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.  

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. “How to Approach Publishing outside of Anthropology.” Anthropology News website, October 1, 2021.