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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Last week I attended the rather enjoyable English: Shared Futures conference and participated in a panel titled “How to Get Published as an Early Career Academic”. This was a worthwhile thing to do, although it’s a shame we need this. Couldn’t we just have: “do good work”? It would be nice to think so.

Anyway, one particular comment from a co-panelist sparked some contention (at least with me). He argued that, before you start a piece of research, you should select the journal in which you wish to publish. This might be sound advice in terms of minimising labour (i.e. check the referencing style before submitting, although, then, I also query: why do we make people reformat to journal styles before we have accepted work? I’ve also written previously on styleguides in scholarly communications.)

While this advice may be pragmatic, I feel it is also devastatingly conservative. First, it assumes that scholarly material should be in journal form. What if one wishes to produce outputs – say, digital material – in a form not accommodated by that journal? In recommending to our early career colleagues that they must select within an Overton window of form that precludes any alternative dissemination measures is dispiriting to say the least.

The second problem is that this presumes that all existing research will fit within a range of journals that already exist and cater for one’s topic. It implies that one should tailor precisely how one writes and thinks to fit with the journal’s scope and focus. It seems to say that the research should bend to the will of the journal, rather than a journal or other outlet allowing the dissemination of whatever researchers feel is valuable, in whatever form.

In other words, this mediation aforethought conditions our ability to think freely. It pre-determines aspects of our thought and practice, subtly compromising academic freedom in the service of routinised labour-saving pragmatics. I would advise ECRs to think carefully about their research, before deciding where to publish. Let the work, its processes, and its conclusions dictate its dissemination.