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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:

What are the pros and cons of publishing outside of anthropology?

Deborah Gewertz: I teach at a liberal arts college where publishing in a respected venue, one outside of your discipline, would impress (and count), so long as you also publish within it as well.

Jason Jackson: I imagine (not having done it) that publishing far outside one’s field is different from publishing in a closely linked one. The pros and cons are probably obvious, but I will say that it can be fun to see how work published further afield is taken up and used after publication. This relates to a pro I suppose—having new readers engaging in new ways. Work that I published in Economic Botany, for instance, has been cited by chemists. That makes it seem like I am far from my field, but the actual work published by me is basically descriptive ethnography. One of the best things about anthropology is that it is not a stretch to reach a wide range of fields. My disciplines are folklore studies and anthropology, but I have published in journals that, on quick inspection, appear to be (and in a way are) literature, linguistics, art, history, botany, ethnomusicology, and Native American studies titles. I never felt any great difficulty in publishing in such adjacent neighborhoods.

Daniel Monterescu: Publishing outside of anthropology demonstrates how conventions within the discipline are relative and puts them into perspective. It forces us to step out of our usual boundaries and actually communicate with other scholars across fields and jargons. It is an exercise in communicative humility. As an anthropologist working on the spectrum between sociology, history, and geography, I find this practice most useful and sometime simply liberating. It also creates new conversations between anthropologists and other scholars. For instance, geographers see the world differently and use different methodologies than anthropologists—as one example, geographers are less constrained by our ethnographic sensibilities. Publishing within geography can productively illuminate those differences and put them in dialogue with each other.

The same goes for writing outside of academia.

Carolyn Rouse: After tenure is generally when scholars start to publish outside of anthropology or publish a book with a nonacademic press. That said, how people outside of anthropology value our discipline is in part related to how anthropologists value their own discipline. Publishing in AAA journals, being a member of the AAA, and citing anthropological scholarship demonstrates that our discipline is valued. This improves the standing of our discipline which, in turn, helps secure its place within academia generally.

Janelle Taylor: When you publish outside of anthropology your work will be reviewed and read by people who are not anthropologists—which can be a pro or a con, depending what you care about. If you publish outside of your own field, you won’t be able to expect people to share your jargon and you won’t be able to engage in certain more specialized insider conversations and debates—but you might be able to get your ideas a hearing among people who would never read an anthropology journal and you might start a conversation that could lead in interesting directions you wouldn’t have anticipated.

Matt Tomlinson: Unless one hasn’t published in any anthropology journals yet, there are no cons, only pros. Writing and publishing interdisciplinarily can both strengthen anthropology and bring anthropology into other fields that need a strong dose of it. And publishing popularly is vital for keeping anthropology in the public consciousness (and students in the classroom).

Claire Wendland: I think the answer to this question is changing, as anthropologists increasingly publish in really good venues for the general public (Aeon, The Atlantic, The American Scholar). These publications matter for your professional reputation and they sharpen your ability to present your work to a range of audiences.

I’ve found publishing in specialized scholarly publications that are outside anthropology a really mixed bag. You have to be prepared for different customs of writing (such as a preference for the passive voice) and different measures of quality that can sometimes feel arbitrary—or worse, like gatekeeping that excludes some kinds of perspectives. Of course, non-anthropologists publishing in anthropology journals probably feel exactly the same.

Jessica Winegar: I think that publishing outside of anthropology can be an extremely rewarding way to experiment with form, voice, and scaffolding of argument. It can also obviously bring your work to new audiences, some of which might desperately need an anthropological perspective. The only con, as I see it, is the constraint of institutional tenure and promotion structures that may privilege publishing in the discipline. And maybe you would be allowed to make an argument for which you have insufficient ethnographic evidence, though perhaps this isn’t a con.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer: There’s obvious stuff—reaching wider audiences, pushing oneself into new conversations—but in my experience, the best thing about engaging with different disciplines is getting a richer sense of how other disciplines conceptualize what counts as evidence. Anthropologists are so committed to certain kinds of Geertzian description and Butlerian accounts of the self that it’s really helpful to call that into relief sometimes. We all know that we work with relatively small samples sizes, and the generic conventions of contemporary ethnographic writing work with those limitations (or obscure them!), but becoming aware of how else one can make a compelling argument with the evidence at hand—or better, how to rework evidence to be compelling to other audiences—can be really intellectually satisfying.

I used to give talks to sleep scientists and health care workers and what I always enjoyed about it was drawing lines between their and my ways of knowing. Because a lot of my work on sleep can be read to be pretty critical of American sleep science and medicine, being able to work on those connections with live audiences who weren’t shy about providing feedback was really helpful. It meant that when it was time to publish those critiques, I already had a sense of how to make them compelling to non-anthropologists.

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. 

Authors

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. “Pros and Cons of Publishing outside of Anthropology.” Anthropology News website, September 28, 2021.

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