Ilana Gershon asked eight 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:
Is there any merit in thinking about an article submission as a way to get feedback on a work in progress?
Deborah Gewertz: I would not submit an article in order to get such feedback. And I would be angry if I learned that this was done in order to do so. There are other ways of asking for feedback, like a direct and honest request for some: “Dear Dr. XXX, I write with the advice of my dissertation supervisor, Professor XXX. I have read your work with interest and admiration. I am about to submit my first article for publication. It addresses issues in which I think you might be interested. Before I submit it, might you have the time to tell me what you think? I’d really appreciate it.”
Jason Jackson: I warn authors against submitting rough or incomplete work to a journal in hopes of gaining feedback on it. There are other mechanisms available for enriching work in progress.
Daniel Monterescu: Most definitely. I highly recommend this strategy to my advanced graduate students. It’s also a way to demystify the publication process, which is of the utmost importance for emerging scholars who tend to aim lower in the journal ranking scale or publish excellent materials in edited volumes for lack of confidence or to please certain figures in the field who invited them.
Carolyn Rouse: I do not recommend submitting an article as a way to get feedback. The review process can take a long time. It would be better to develop a writing group with some trusted scholars, and when the article is ready then submit it.
Janelle Taylor: Yes, but with a big caveat: you should send out work that is polished and that you are proud of. If the piece is not realistically within striking distance of being ready to publish, you should think twice about asking colleagues in your field to devote their unremunerated labor to helping you polish and improve it.
Claire Wendland: There is an emotional advantage, if it helps you to take reviews as useful guidance rather than judgment of your intellectual worth! However, I think it must be accompanied by a genuine wish to have the article published in that journal. It’s a sleazy thing to do—to both editors and reviewers, who are generally providing considerable unpaid labor in the service of an intellectual community they find valuable—to solicit their feedback on a work in progress if you have no intention of publishing it as an article in that journal.
Jessica Winegar: I think this is a wise strategy for more senior scholars, who do not have graduate committees providing in-depth critical feedback, and who may not have reading groups to do so (or do so honestly). Due to the double blind review process at many journals, reviewers may not know the senior scholar’s identity and so feedback can be exceptionally honest.
Matthew Wolf-Meyer: Absolutely. As I was working on Unraveling, I had a talk that I would give and always get some…mixed feedback on. It was all about anthropology’s fixation on the speaking subject as an ethnographic object and basis of subject formation. It was really the kernel of the critique of at the heart of the book, and I used the opportunities to engage with diverse audiences to see what kind of feedback it elicited. At the same time, I sent it out for peer review to a few journals, basically fishing for peer reviews. Don’t get me wrong: if an editor was excited about it, I would have pursued publication. But they universally weren’t (which I’m not going to read too much into), and it never came out as an article. Even in the book it’s very different than the talk I would give or the manuscript I sent out. So it was really helpful to get a wide swath of peer reviews to a pretty serious critique of anthropology’s dependency on speech. I’m deeply appreciative to all of the reviewers and audience members who weighed in on that piece—it made the book much better.
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.
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.