To be or not to be peer reviewed: a pertinent question

To be or not to be peer reviewed: a pertinent question

Recently I  withdrew an article from a well-known nationally recognised peer review journal.  As I read the assessor comments I realised rule number one in doing peer review articles; publishing your work in the right journal.
It is so easy as Black academics to push for validation from those quarters that seldom appreciate the abilities and insights we have. I nearly fell into the trap of locating my work in a generic journal that would render the context of my work invisible in a sea of colour blind articles.
I write about Black men and criminal justice and need an audience who are sensitive and committed to seeing my research as part of a wider discourse on race, racialisation and crime as a whole. Important as the journal I submitted my article to was, I realised it had limited possibilities on the wider debates on race and crime taking place within social science, and in particular criminology in the UK.
However, in  the US, Caribbean, and Africa, these debates are on-going, questioning, and unapologetic for confronting relevant issues, race and racialisation being key drivers when looking at Black men in relation to crime and criminal justice.
The lesson learned is ensuring I put my work on a relevant and appropriate footing, as opposed to looking for so called mainstream validation that in spite of its best intention still renders Black perspectives invisible. The assessors of my article understandably did a great job in identifying its weaknesses.
The main one being attempting to distil my thesis into an article, as opposed to locating my position in criminology in the right context.  So I decided to scrap the original brief and tell my truth. The result meant the article was no longer appropriate for the original journal submission as it was too generic, which is fine but it wasn’t appropriate for where my work needs to be located. 
I also realised that I got caught up in the post viva moment and REF (Research Excellence Framework) requirement without thinking things through. However, the assessor’s comments pushed me to consult scholars involved in race and crime here in the UK and abroad, to seek their council.
They agreed with my analysis and were critical of me having a stance such as looking for mainstream approval. In essence I’ve come of age. My expertise is consistent with any scholar who writes extensively from their own context, albeit serial murder, terrorism, etc.
In my case it’s race and crime, with specific reference to Black men. Essentially I’m growing and establishing my own identity as a criminologist much the same as everyone else. I would love to have articles published in many journals but if the audience and impact limits the profile of the kind of work I’m passionate about, then its better I don’t publish.
Alternatively I’ve started thinking about setting up my own journal around race and crime that would attract those who want to join me on this journey. I’ve now rewritten the article and am looking at new offers from a wide range of sources here and abroad. If what I’ve written resonates with you, please holla at me. 

2 thoughts on “To be or not to be peer reviewed: a pertinent question

  • 24th June 2013 at 2:39 pm

    So glad you brought this up Martin and I would be keen to see some responses on this. My own view on the subject is mixed. On the one hand I want to see issues of race pushed into the mainstream so that precisely the type of people who normally don't engage with race within their fields can become enlightened and hence more inclusive practitioners/teachers. On the other hand, there is definitely a need for more journals dedicated to understanding race within the context of different disciplines, placing emphasis on the experiences of black peoples and drawing on critical and alternative epistemologies. I guess there is room for both approaches?

  • 24th June 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Where to publish and/or where not to publish. That is the question. And it is one that I know I have had to confront throughout my career, and I know it is also of relevance to many other black British academics. In my case, my dilemna stems from my wanting to support to various non-stream, and sometimes, non-western journals that are struggling to become established or to stay afloat.

    My interest in Caribbean history means that I feel that I have a responsibility to support shcolarhsip in, of and about that region. What I have noticed is that most of the major sources of publications are located geographically outside of the Caribbean. This has very real career implications for Caribbean scholars both in and outside of the region. As a Caribbeanist working and living outside of the region, if I want my career to progress in leaps and bounds, then I must seek publication primarily in international, peer reviewed journals that originate outside of the Caribbean, rather than seek publication in smaller, perhaps non-peer reviewed, journals with relatively small, and often Caribbean based readership. University and other scholarly /academic presses in the region struggle to compete alongside the larger global titles.

    And it is these larger titles that appear on 'approved' list of peer-reviewed journals, and it is these titles that we are encouraged to submit our articles to. There is another issue. The resource base of much of the data that I draw on for my articles originates from the Caribbean – I make wide and free use of Caribbean resources – the people who so freely give of themselves, their time, their knowledge, the archives, libraries, and museums.

    It seems to me that in disseminating my research, that I am therefore morally bound to support these small island presses that are often overlooked in favour of the larger global titles. And besides, who is most likely to have a care about what I write? Some anonymous reader who once perhaps in some long ago time did some PhD research in the region and (and perhaps made a career of out it?

    Oh yes, it happens) or those of whom I write about, whose histories I also share? Deborah, I share your view to some extent, but I don't believe it is the case that mainstreaming race will necessarily create more critical engagement – I worked for years in one of the premier sociology departments in a Russell Group university where race appeared on reading lists, but never once appeared as an agenda item for faculty discussion. There may be room for both approaches, but I fear that global universities being subject to the same market forces that drive the REF etc., the smaller non-mainstream titles will be hard pushed to compete alongside the giants. But I might be wrong.

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