Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Thoughts from a journal editor

Crossposted from Social Issues

As editor of Education and Culture, the journal of the Dewey Society, I write a brief note with each issue, usually offering a few ideas of my own while briefly discussing the articles. I went back recently and reread the notes from the first two issues I edited, 20(2) and 21(1), from about 3 years ago.

In the first I discuss what I see as my hopes for a journal sponsored by the John Dewey Society:

When I wrote the JDS board about taking over the journal, I gave a rationale that read, in part, that [My] interests are broadly Deweyan. Though I have read and studied Dewey’s work, I see the journal as more Deweyan in spirit, rather than just in letter. I would be interested in seeking out scholars who are examining not only Dewey himself, but his influence upon his contemporaries, and his enduring legacy. I would like to invite contributions on current work on Dewey’s influence. I am also keenly interested in exploring how the new technologies may be used in the journal. I would insist on electronic submission and reviewing procedures to expedite the process of production. I would also like to explore online components of the journal . . . I hope we are on the right path to realizing some of these characteristics, and I welcome any comments from readers on the journal’s direction and how this new editorial team may best serve the Society.

In the second note, I continue this discussion of what this journal is and might be. The impetus for this reflection was an email exchange with a former editor of Educational Theory:

Last year, I engaged in a series of spirited emails with Ralph Page about my new position as editor. Ralph recently retired after many years from the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana/ Champaign, and edited Educational Theory, one of the best-known journals in the areas of social foundations of education and educational policy, from 1983–1991. I had heard about Ralph from many people, especially my former colleague Christine Shea, before I had the pleasure to meet him, and came to realize the effect he has had upon not only the fields of what we at Purdue call “cultural foundations,” but more especially, through his work with countless authors and reviewers, a continuing narrative about what it means to be a journal editor. Ralph enjoined me to think of a journal as more than a place where the “best” articles get published, and the field, in my case, Dewey studies, is defined. Ralph thinks a journal can be, as he so generously put it, “a site of interchange among actual authors and actual audiences.” I thought about that and agreed that many people may not think of journals as sites for exploration, for the education of the authors, but more simply as gate keeping devices for the disciplines involved, and as finished products of scholarship. Ralph reminded me of the primacy of keeping the audience in mind when considering how to put together an issue. He told me that he asked himself the question: Will this audience be better off if they have a chance to read this article? That intrigued me, and I thought along with Ralph about what “better off” means in this context. We decided that “better off” may mean that an article raises neglected topics or a marginalized point of view, and thus enlarges the field of discourse. Or, more directly and personally, the audience may be better off by hearing a crucial statement by an up and coming junior scholar on the cusp of tenure. “Better off” for Ralph did not mean merely some notion of “excellence” or “cutting edge,” determined by a supposedly unbiased and distinguished review panel. These issues are not excluded, but a host of other issues, some idiosyncratic to the editor, his or her board, the journal at that particular time, may be considered.

I try to keep these thoughts in mind as we move forward with the journal and continue to think about its place in the lives of scholars and practitioners. We are moving forward with a special issue commemorating the150th anniversary of the birth of John Dewey in 2009, and looking at where Dewey studies, as well as practice, may take us today.


Nick Burbules said...

Thanks AG

Let me pass along a couple of things that I learned from Ralph, too. As you say, it’s a mistake to think of the editorial process as simply a process of evaluation and selection – though that is how it is usually viewed.

The review and evaluation process, the feedback that authors receive, the process of revisions (and sometimes multiple revisions), and the final editing, all change and improve the work. The published article is usually better, and sometimes much better, than the author originally produced. In many cases the final result is really a collaborative product, involving the author and numerous colleagues, even though it may only have one name on the title page.

Over time, a good journal and a good journal process shapes and improves the work in a field. (At least, I hope so!)

Another way in which a journal influences the work in a field, and doesn’t just select things, is through the way that decisions about what kind of work is deemed worthy of publication have a feedback effect on the kind of work that gets done. When a journal reflects a pattern of interest in certain topics, it tends to encourage people to do more work on those topics. Calls for papers, special issues, commissioned works, etc., all play a part as well. I wouldn’t exaggerate this influence: scholars tend to pursue the topics that interest and engage them. But a journal can give legitimacy to certain issues and kinds of work by publishing them (or, the opposite). To me, this feedback effect is one of the most serious responsibilities that comes with being a journal editor – and for me it is almost always one factor in the back of my mind as I make acceptance and rejection decisions.

A. G. Rud said...


I appreciate your comment, all the more special to me and others as you succeeded Ralph Page as editor of Educational Theory.

I have given several presentations here at Purdue to graduate students and faculty on being a journal editor, and one of the things I try to stress is how a journal can shape a field, based on the considerations you mention. Many graduate students and even faculty are more concerned, and understandably so, in finding out how the peer review process works, how they might succeed or even game the system, and so forth.

For me, it is satisfying to work with graduate students on the journal, and share ideas with them on value and worth. It is a great experience I wish I had had as a graduate student.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how Dewey would explain the current lawsuits ripping Duke and Durham apart for what they did in 2006.

sexy said...