The journals we don’t write in, because they don’t exist




The space of possible journals in philosophy is much bigger than what is actually on offer. Consider the most prestigious journals (an exercise done every few years) and what appears there: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (not much phenomenology published there), Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Review, Mind (OK. Mind is a cool title), and Noûs. 

These are generalist, but not really. It’s hard to find, e.g., a paper in Indigenous philosophy in there. I had to look twice when Philosophical Review published a paper in Chinese philosophy recently. Mostly, these journals track recent trends in analytic philosophy. 

All too often, a new journal is just a carbon copy of generalist prestigious journals, and I understand the rationale for this (tiny acceptance rates!) But do we need yet more generalist, mostly analytic journals for papers up to 10,000 words that are mainly not response papers and mainly not history of philosophy? 

Because of the peculiar ecology of philosophy journals, their relative prestige, and overrepresentation of some areas and underrepresentation of others, we are nudged in certain directions in our explorations of philosophy. Especially early career scholars who need a publication record to get any academic job, or for tenure and promotion purposes, are nudged to publish in prestigious journals. How does this ecology of journals impact how we write?

As Regina Rini points out, this journal ecology may make us worse writers, namely because of the anonymous peer review system and gatekeeping/guild reinforcement: 

… we train grad students to write like a philosopher: that is how they will prove their guild membership while behind the veil of journal anonymity

Personally, I have found a lot of freedom in blogging. Eric Schliesser, in a recent interview with Shelley Tremain, writes how liberating it is to write blogposts whenever you want, on whatever you want, without gatekeepers and without editorial oversight: 

 I suspect that, as a group, because we have such amazing editorial freedom, we actually shape many discussions and punch quite above our weight in the profession’s imagination.

I think Eric is right, but as he also points out, a lot of public philosophy has now become professionalized too. It appears on specialized platforms such as magazines (e.g., The Raven, Boston Review, Aeon/Psyche) and podcasts, which come with their own guild/gatekeeping dynamics.

Nevertheless, I think that both the writing problem and the diversity in philosophical ideas could be alleviated by expanding the journal space. Here’s a journal that doesn’t exist but that I think would be fun to have. 

Proposed title: Sketches (or something along those lines)

Aim: to publish short-form philosophy of max 2000 words in any tradition. Unlike Analysis or Thought you don’t even need a full-blown argument, the outline or sketch of an idea would be sufficient. What is needed is that it’s thought-provoking or novel. Literary writing (as in essays or philosophical letters) would be very welcome and weighed in the review procedure. Style could be tight, analytic, and sparse, or free-flowing and poetic, or anything in between. To be able to offer something complementary to the current analytic journals, this journal would be especially interested in less commonly taught philosophical traditions, continental philosophy, pragmatism, and other non-analytic traditions. However, analytic authors should not self-reject and definitely try this journal. 

Journal would be open-access and appear quarterly. 

I’m sure many of us have cool journal ideas. But here’s the reality, it’s difficult and uncertain to start new journals. I manage an open-access journal, Faith and Philosophy, am executive editor of another one Journal of Analytic Theology, and am in the editorial board of Ergo, and I know the obstacles for open access are formidable. Good typesetting etc costs a lot. Unfortunately libraries seem willing to fork out thousands of dollars to Springer and Elsevier but not to support non-profit open access journals. I suspect that this added layer of complexity is why many journal ideas do not get transformed into journals. You must either go with one of the big for-profit publishers, or slightly less egregious but still profit-making publishers like Oxford or Cambridge, or cobble along on uncertain budgets with a free labor to make the journal have a professional look. 

This at least is one explanation why the journal landscape is so conservatively tied to the same kind of writing. Rini is right that part of it is the professionalization of philosophy, and guild forming, but there are also practical obstacles to make the journal landscape more diverse. 

Journals do a lot to shape a professional field. Imagine counterfactually that some journals did not exist (e.g., Philosophical Psychology or Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism) then some papers, including influential papers, that got published there might have never found a home and were indefinitely shelved by their authors. Thus, journals help to shape the discipline. In a similar vein, one might counterfactually think that there is a lot of interesting philosophy that could be there, if only there were suitable venues with right incentive structures, to enable their existence (see relatedly, Nathan Ballantyne’s counterfactual philosophers.) 

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More