Thursday, July 30, 2009

Random Thought About the Philosophy and Pop Culture Books

I wonder if anyone on this list has read enough philosophy and popular culture books, or has some insight or speculation, to answer the following thought I had. There are, as far as I know, three of these series (Blackwell, Open Court, University of Kentucky). (Those books must really sell well!) My impression is that Open Court tends to ask for paper submissions, whereas the other two ask for abstract + CV. (Is that right? Or is this up to the discretion of the individual book editors rather than series policy?) What I'm wondering is whether there is any consistent difference in quality produced by these two approaches and, if so, which way it leans.

My first thought was that requesting full papers rather than abstracts is likely to get better results. First of all, the reviewers are selecting among full works rather than partially thought out ideas, and this makes it easier to judge quality from the outset. And second, people are more likely to try harder if they are trying to get something published than when publication is certain. (Though I could be wrong on this.)

On the other hand, though, requesting abstracts might lead to better results. First, higher level scholars or more ambitious ones are probably less likely to submit papers than abstracts; after all, for most of these books, if your paper doesn't get accepted, then you've just wasted a lot of time on work you can't submit anywhere else without a more or less complete rewrite. The cost/benefit analysis will more likely favor abstracts than papers, especially for people who have more "serious" things to do. Second, if CVs are used as part of the selection process, this might lead to acceptance of papers by people with stronger records who are probably, on average, more likely to produce solid work.



  1. I've contributed to some of these, and edited a few as well. In my experience, many abstracts show whether or not the person can write for this specific type of book. And there have been cases where a chapter just wasn't good enough, and had to be cut by the editor or the publisher.

  2. Thanks for the info. I know I've found, in general, that not every abstract I write, however solid, ends up making as much sense when it becomes a paper. But I started wondering about the abstract vs paper question when I was writing a submission for one of these books, thinking "if this doesn't get accepted, this will be the most pointless two weeks I've ever spent." Well, maybe not the most pointless...

  3. At SIUC, we have a close connection to the Open Court series since we have the Open Court Publishing Archives also in our library. Professionally, some of our Professors have done several anthologies (Bruce Springstein and Philosophy AND The Wizard of Oz and Philo.). Today, one of these professors warned me against publishing an article in them. That same professor hosted a talk at the APA about various professional attitudes about these popular culture series. While they sell well, it is a common anecdote among many to refuse a job to someone who publishes silly articles, and to look down upon anyone publishing them, insights gleaned from the APA session in question. The editor of the Open Court series thinks it is the Leiterite recent Associate Professors who having greatly for their degrees do not regard silly less-than-rigorous-work worthy of the profession. These same Associate Professors are gatekeepers of the profession with their service requirement to the university in the form of hiring committees.

    So, there are professional attitudes that must first be looked at before whether or not such publications require abstracts. I think they're fun and engaging to a larger audience, but given the attitudes I will not engage in "silly work", though I will maybe give a talk on some issue to a larger audience. Prudence demands that I be sensitive to the stupidity of a larger academic world than my own preferences would like.

  4. Yes, I've heard these anecdotes too, though I've also seen a few fairly high-profile new professors who have published in these. They don't surprise me given that, while many of the newly minted profs I've met are very cool, there are also many who seem to take themselves and their narrowly focused, refutation-based, tenure oriented writing way more seriously than anyone ever should. But I wonder about the following, as well: sure, there are people who will refuse to hire someone on the basis of a "silly" publication (and, by the way, I don't see anything inconsistent about publishing something that I find silly--after all, I can be silly in everyday life, so why not be silly, just for fun, in my publishing career as well?). But there are also people who won't care, or who will think it's kind of cool, or who might even think that being able to publish silly stuff might speak well of one's ability to interact with students. And I wonder whether there is a distribution of people of both types. Coming from Stony Brook, for example, I am probably not going to end up at a top Leiter-ranked department. And if that's where silly publications hurt your chances, there is no reason to care much.

    Here's a similar example: following Leiter, one might get the sense that continental philosophy, unless done in a very particular, stripped-down style, is looked down on and will hurt your chances of getting hired anywhere but the strongly continental departments. But then you talk to people at small colleges or, really, at many many schools outside the Leiter mainstream. And that's when you learn that continental philosophy really isn't widely reviled at all; it's just ignored (and sometimes reviled) by the people who publish in a particular set of journals. Similarly, look at faculty listings for most non-Leiter ranked schools, and you might discover a number of continental people coexisting happily side by side with more "serious" philosophers. I wonder if the same isn't the case with silly publications: the ostracism and disdain we think permeates the academy with regard to certain types of activities might actually be concentrated only in a small handful of departments, which do a good job of presenting themselves as mainstream.

  5. Yeah, I hear the worries. I know this story inside and out. I think the point comes really hard due to the fact that Leiterites are the very gatekeepers of the profession, the ones on the hiring committees we have to impress. I would take the advice of the person I mention since this person has edited more than one popular series. Our intention is to get a job in our field and while such a distinction really shouldn't matter (popular phil publication vs. "more rigorous" publications), it does as far as prudence and self-interest limit.