The Perils of Publication and the Call to Action


Institute of Psychology, Law, and Public Policy
California School of Professional Psychology – Fresno

It is not easy to publish in peer-reviewed journals. It is particularly difficult for critical scholars who often, through their research, challenge existing political, economic, and social structural dynamics, or otherwise resist prevailing sensibilities about law, crime, and justice.1 Part of our struggle is with dominant ideologies and how they are sustained through various means of communication. All too often I have, with my colleagues at the annual ASC, ACJS, and LSA meetings, exchanged war stories about academic publishing, assessed the psychology of revise and resubmit editorial decisions, and lamented the failure of members of the Division on Critical Criminology of the American Society of Criminology to assume, on a sustained basis, their rightful status among the legions of mainstream criminologists whose work routinely appears in high profile (read prestigious) periodicals.2 In the past, when rejections of this sort have occurred for me, I have been reduced to mumbling my indignation, summed up in the trite but all so apt saying: “Too bad, so sad, oh well.” Back of the bus3 I go with my tail between my legs. So much for critical criminological discontent.

I now realize how inadequate my position has been. Moreover, I recognize how I have, unwittingly, allowed the forces of conventional criminology to dictate my behavior. This has been a personal and professional mistake, but one, I think, that can be rectified. If critical criminology amounts to anything, it seriously and persistently debunks victimizing, alienating, and oppressive practices, while, simultaneously, championing the cause of justice, fairness, and equality. This certainly should extend to the “journal-industrial complex.”4 During the past several months, I have discussed with a number of critical criminological scholars, the problem of academic publishing in the leading periodicals of our profession. While I was not surprised to learn that rejection in these quarterlies is a routine occurrence for far too many (notable) colleagues, I was surprised to discover that our Division has not, thus far, addressed the issue in any systematic, organized fashion. This climate of passivity and non-responsiveness must change.

Recently, Dragan Milovanovic, Stuart Henry, and I reviewed this matter over a series of enthusiastic and spirited e-mail discussions.5 Although many ideas and strategies were proposed, one observation was made abundantly clear: the Division needs to assess the “suppressor effect” operating within and throughout the Academy, particularly when critical scholarship is repeatedly denied recognition and, thus, legitimacy in the leading periodicals of our discipline. This is the presence of hegemony in the Academy. What counts as “serious” scholarship and, hence, what is actively engaged in by critical criminologists is, all too often, circumscribed by the “chilling effect” found in the seemingly systematic exclusionary practices enacted and sustained by the more prestigious periodicals of our field. This exclusion must be confronted and it must be addressed on our own terms in a responsible manner. This essay, then, is designed to lay out the dilemma we confront, suggest several avenues for resolution, and invite the Division membership to support the cause that awaits our deliberate and thoughtful attention.6

Academic Imperialism or Questionable Scholarship?

If your personal (and/or academic department’s) budget is similar to mine, you subscribe to any number of professional journals and, as time permits, read the latest developments pertaining to your own instructional and/or research interests. Regrettably, it is painfully apparent how infrequently critically-inspired scholarship appears in the discipline’s highly respected periodicals. How can we account for this? Where is critical race theory analysis? Where are the Marxist-informed commentaries? Where is border criminology and dialogical pedagogy? Where are the intersectional commentaries on race, gender, class, and crime? Where is left realism, anarchist praxis, prophetic criticism, peacemaking criminology, and the like? Where is the postmodern feminist jurisprudential critique? Where are the psychoanalytic and semiotic contributions? Indeed, how are we to interpret the absence of these divergent, though critical, strains of thought in the journals that, presumably, embrace all approaches to the knowledge process? Yes, articles along these and similar lines of inquiry do, on occasion, appear in high profile journals. But what is their frequency and how does it compare with the rate at which non-critically inspired scholarship is published?

Criminology, Law and Society Review, Journal of Research on Crime and Delinquency, and several other notable periodicals representing our profession, include detailed and/or clear statements about their openness to all types of scholarship, regardless of orientation. However, a cursory assessment of any one of these quarterlies reveals that the rate at which critical scholarship is published is far less frequent than its non-critical counterpart.7 This fact raises a number of important and provocative questions for us all. The essential concern, though, is as follows: can it be that what we write about is considerably less meritorious or substantially less well-crafted than our non-critical colleagues? Indeed, are more mainstream types of articles or forms of critical analysis that much more compelling in prose and substantively more enlightening? Or, is the problem one of academic imperialism? Relatedly, is the answer to this latter question, in part, linked to the frequency with which critical versus non-critical articles are submitted to mainstream journals? Or, can a compelling prima facie case be made for the suppressor effect based on a content analysis of what has been published in any one of several leading and mainstream criminological journals during the past 5-10 years? Is the playing field therefor depleted of otherwise possible important contributions because of the chilling effect, the suppressor effect? Do critical criminological scholars eventually give up sending material and, consequently, inadvertently engage in self-marginalization, producing a ghettoization of the discipline? As a result, isn’t the intense, sustained engagement needed among the various critical perspectives greatly circumscribed, and, thus, the movement to a better, more human, society that much more limited? Perusal of several mainstream journals (L&SR, Criminology, etc.) suggests that a prima facie case could be made for exclusionary practices of a broad range of critical scholarship. Of course, prima facie evidence is in need of further statistical support to significantly reach this conclusion. We owe it to ourselves (and to the criminological community), then, to inspect this very profound issue by collecting and assessing the available and appropriate data.

Toward a Strategy of Engagement

Ultimately, what we want is information, engagement, and openness to a diversity of critical scholarship. Information should tell us about what we do as a Division composed of researchers/scholars within the Academy, practitioners of social justice, entering Ph.D. students, and other activists. The data we collect, however, is merely a tool in the service of a larger agenda. My sense is that we will find out just how infrequently critical criminologists publish in the prestigious journals of our profession. Clearly, there will be many explanations for this result and The Critical Criminologist is one forum to debate these accounts. But academic exegeses should not be the end of our inquiry. What we need to do is create a space within which to engage the Editors and the Editorial Board members of the mainstream journals we evaluate. I believe that if we create “us vs. them” dichotomies we undermine our goal of collegiality. Thus, the larger agenda is one of dialogue and engagement in the name of change. We want Criminology, Law and Society Review, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, etc., to tell us, if at all, why our analysis is flawed or inaccurate. Moreover, if the findings we arrive at are accurate, we want to invite the Editors of these periodicals to rectify the situation with us! We seek greater sensitivity to broad, critical scholarship of all persuasions. If there is hyperbole or avoidance, and I truly hope that this will not occur, we must firmly but supportively insist on a more genuine application of their stated philosophical principles regarding articles accepted for review and publication.8 Indeed, we must appeal to our colleagues’ commitment to intellectual integrity and criminological verstehen.

In my discussions with Dragan and Stuart, several strategies were considered. The clear indication from our informal working group was that the Division membership needs to express their points of view on the general issue I outlined before we proceed much further. This observation notwithstanding, several suggestions for engagement were offered. In what follows, I briefly summarize a number of these recommendations. Collectively, they represent a much needed call for further research initiated by scholars/practitioners/activists committed to this important and timely cause. The recommendations include, in no particular order, the following:

1. Discuss the general issue in greater detail at the ASC Critical Criminology Division meetings for further review, consideration, and recommendations.

2. Conduct a content analysis of several leading mainstream journals (during the past 10 years), and assess the rate at which “critical” versus “non-critical” articles are published. The principal researcher for this study could be: (a) an appointed/elected Division member; (b) a highly regarded critical criminologist; ( c) the Division Chair; (d) an independent third party not affiliated with the Division; or (e) a collective composed equally of several Division members and several Editorial members of various mainstream journals representing our profession (Note: The intent here is not necessarily to establish consensus; rather, the intent is to ensure that majority and minority views are expressed).9

3. Depending on the results of this content analysis, encourage critical scholars to submit to mainstream journals and report back the Division leadership and/or to those who engaged in the initial content analysis for possible follow-up.

4. Petition the various Editors of several notable criminal justice, law and society, and criminological periodicals for information about their review processes, requesting details on any internal evaluation procedures, publication practices, and/or submission/reviewer trends.

5. After substantive discussions within the Division, with, perhaps, inclusion of the content analysis findings, draft a formal document signed by the Division leadership and send it to the Editors of those journals that are subject to our content analysis inquiry. The document should draw attention to the questionable editorial and reviewer practices that culminate in a limited range of critical scholarship being published. Further, our content analysis results should be attached to the memo as an Appendix for perusal by the Editors-in-Chief or Editorial Board members. Finally, the document should make clear that the Division welcomes comments from those Editors who receive the memo, particularly in regard to the research conclusions reached by the Division on Critical Criminology.

6. Develop a Panel (or series of Panels) for the ACJS meetings in March, 2000, exploring the perils and pitfalls of publishing in prominent mainstream journals as a critical criminologist. In addition, develop a strategic action plan to rectify this dilemma.

7. Publish, or attempt to publish, the results of our initial content analysis in The Criminologist, the Law and Society Newsletter, the Journal of Criminal Justice Education, or a related periodical.

8. Consult with the Division of People of Color and the Division of Women and Crime and assess with them whether the marginalization of non-mainstream discourses has been addressed, in any capacity, by their respective Division members. Moreover, build a coalition base, inclusive of these Divisions, and develop a strategy for engaging the Editors and Editorial Boards of Law and Society Review, Criminology, and similar high profile periodicals within the Academy.

9. Request that each Journal considered include a broader range of critical scholars on their various Editorial Boards and as a part of their manuscript reviewer pool.

A Call to Action

There are certainly additional strategies for engagement. I welcome thoughts on these strategies in The Critical Criminologist, the Division website, and at the Division on Critical Criminology business meeting at the upcoming ASC conference in Toronto. Our initial task, however, is to move the constructive dialogue on these matters beyond the private, safe, and supportive confines of the Internet, the coffee houses of our college communities, or the restaurant bars hosting the ASC, ACJS, or L&SA annual meetings. I realize that it is no longer acceptable to tacitly endorse the hegemony we confront in the Academy and that unwittingly governs our respective research decision making practices. We need to move beyond the publication sympathy and support extended to us by critically-inspired periodicals. We need a strategic vision for engaging our non-critical colleagues; one that changes the culture of academic publishing where diversity of intellectual perspectives is genuinely celebrated rather than privately dismissed. We must confront these realities in a planful, humane, and intelligent fashion. Indeed, we have a responsibility to the future generation of bright, enthusiastic, and creative critical criminologists whose scholarly pursuits rest, in a very meaningful way, upon the shoulders of our individual and collective action.

The back of the bus was never a place of comfort or contentment. We need to own this poignant sentiment and, much like Rosa Parks, deliberately embrace our responsibility to repudiate our marginalized status in the Academy. The theme of this essay can be the first step toward much needed transformation within and throughout the Division. We must rectify our felt sense of victimization as a community of talented and compassionate scholars. We must channel our critical criminological discontent into productive social activism. This is the challenge that awaits us all.

1. A good part of the inspiration for this essay developed as a consequence of a recent “rejection” from a co-authored article I submitted to Law & Society Review with Dragan Milovanovic and Rob Schehr. Of course, we have all had our share of rejected manuscripts. Moreover, at times, some of us have even been on the side of the Editor, rejecting a colleague’s manuscript whose contents were found not suitable for publication. However, my engagement with L&SR perhaps epitomizes the experience others of us have had with “prestigious” mainstream journals. The latest rejection did initiate some very pointed reflection about the nature of publishing in the leading periodicals of our profession. In this particular instance with L&SR, one reviewer dismissed the piece and the other referee suggested a revise and resubmit. The Editor, without more substantive comments, simply sent a rejection letter. Unfortunately, this was not the first time that my co-authors and I (as well as others in our Division) have not had a good experience with the reviews offered by Law & Society Review; indeed, in the past there have been some very irrelevant and even “nasty” observations made about our respective critical sociolegal analyses by the journal’s referees. With the recent submission to L&SR, my co-authors and I spent some considerable time in advance discussing the prospects of a rejection from this periodical, given its historically restrictive approach to publishing critical scholarship. We agreed, however, that our concerns should be put aside. We felt that the article represented an opportunity for engaging the readership of the journal, and hoped that it would be reviewed in that spirit. Regrettably, it was not. I have heard many, many similar stories from a wide range of critical scholars who attempt to publish in the leading journals of our profession.

2. One important dimension to assessing the rate at which any version of criminological or sociolegal scholarship is published in our profession’s leading periodicals is to consider the rate at which a given type of research is submitted to a particular prestigious journal for review. Thus, for example, the rate at which critical criminological scholarship is published must, to some significant extent, be evaluated based on the frequency with which it is submitted to Criminology, Law & Society Review, etc. As I subsequently intimate, however, this does not mean that the “playing field” is entirely level for critical criminologists when attempting to publish in the mainstream and leading quarterlies of our discipline.

3. The “back of the bus”reference is a metaphor about oppression. While the academic marginalization described in this article is qualitatively different than apartheid, economic and social inequality, and the denial of basic human rights, the effect is the same: the exercise of power (e.g., symbolic, psychological, physical, political) that results in felt harm.

4. One could fairly question whether critical criminological scholarship– or any type of criminology for that matter– effectively makes a difference in the lives of people. The central issue is whether what we do transforms the political, economic, cultural, psychological, legal, and social conditions in which people find themselves. I would argue that critical criminology, more than any other variant of the discipline, attempts to bring this concern for social justice right into center stage. Indeed, I hope this article, as a statement of transpraxis, moves the Division and its membership to a state of action so that each of us may experience greater inclusiveness and receptiveness in the Academy to which we maintain (some) allegiance.

5. Stuart’s involvement was initiated following the rejection of my co-authored article from Law and Society Review. We turned to Stuart particularly because of his status as a member of the journal’s Editorial Board.

6. To be clear at the outset, the combined involvement of Dragan’s, Stuart’s, and my own (co)editorship of journals and/or newsletters is eight. The point is that each of us, in our own way, has been quite sensitive to and invested in the process of academic publishing. Our e-mail discussions and the comments that follow are based on our collective histories as Editors and our desire to offer some insight into the publishing process for up-and-coming critical scholars.

7. One notable exception to the mainstream trend appears to be Justice Quarterly. Over the last dozen years or so critical scholarship has appeared with more frequency within the pages of this journal and, I would add, these contributions, along with the inclusion of more non-critically oriented articles, have exposed the JQ readership to a wider range of perspectives from which to appreciate issues in law, crime, and justice. Its counterpart, Criminology, has not compared favorably.

8. The Editorial Policy statement for Law & Society Review reads as follows:
The Law & Society Review is a peer-reviewed publication for work bearing on the relationship between society and the legal process, including articles or notes of interest to the research community in general, new theoretical developments, results of empirical studies, and comments on the field or its methods of inquiry. The Review is broadly interdisciplinary and welcomes work from any tradition or scholarship concerned with the cultural, economic, political, psychological, or social aspects of law and legal systems (emphasis added).

9. The Editorial Policy statement for Criminology reads as follows:
The journal is interdisciplinary, devoted to the study of crime, deviant behavior, and related phenomena, as found in the social and behavior sciences and in the fields of law, criminal justice, and history. The major emphases are theory, research, historical issues, policy evaluation, and current controversies concerning crime, law, and justice (emphasis added).

Notwithstanding these Editorial Policies, the issue is whether they (and others that are similar) maintain fidelity to their respective philosophical claims. I note further that there are periodicals (e.g., Humanity & Society) that expressly welcome “critical and humanistic” scholarship. And, consistent with this Editorial Policy, the articles that appear in H&S are only critical and/or humanistic. Again, however, the question is whether the profession’s leading periodicals adhere or fail to adhere to their “broad” and/or “interdisciplinary” Editorial Policy declarations.