Journals and Political Philosophy

by Harry on October 4, 2005

The message I got as a graduate student was basically this: “Don’t publish anything unless it is outstandingly good, or in a high reputation journal, and even then don’t publish much”. I suspect this was slightly anachronistic even then (not complaining: it worked for me). So I have recently revised my advice to students; I mildly encourage publication (though stick to the advice that it should be pretty good). And, of course, the reputation of journals, which matters a little after tenure, and more before, matters enormously in pre-job search. But how do you know which have the good reputations?

While, thanks to the Gourmet report, potential graduate student have a pretty good sense of the reputation graduate schools have in the profession, it is much harder for existing graduate students to have a good sense of the reputation that journals (which they might choose to publish in) have. My guess is that they rely on their advisors’ judgements. But these judgements are likely to be less than fully informed. For myself I have distinct preferences within my own field, but have no idea whether they have shared. At the top it is pretty clear—Ethics and Philosophy & Public Affairs enjoy great reputations. I like the Journal of Political Philosophy for its more eclectic coverage than you get in PPA (or in Political Theory) and I also like Social Theory and Practice (not least because STP has provided great referee’s comments on my submissions, and copy-edited my publications beautifully). But are graduate students better advised to publish in those journals than in, say, Legal Theory, or Law and Philosophy or Economics and Philosophy? I’ve no idea, and nor have I any idea, really, how to find out. Except by asking the readers of CT, and by respectfully suggesting to Brian Leiter that there’s a missing market here…

{ 29 comments }

1

spencer 10.04.05 at 3:32 pm

So if you were not encouraged to publish, then what were you encouranged to do in its place?

2

Matt 10.04.05 at 3:35 pm

Hi Harry,

My impressions are roughly like yours for political philosophy journals. I’d think that if one is writing particularly on legal theory or philosophy and economics than publishing in those specialized journals would be just as good. (My impression is that the best articles in Legal Theory, for example, are as good as at least most article on jurisprudence in Ethics, for example.) But, some evidence on this was gathered a while ago by Brian Weatherson on his personal blog via a survey of many philosophers. It was broader than just political philosophy but did cover the field. That might be a good place to start.

3

Harry B 10.04.05 at 3:50 pm

what were you encouranged to do in its place?

Good philosophy, in sufficient quantity to make for a plausible job application. Seemed sensible and, in fact, it worked fine, as it turned out. (My one publication was a very short, well-placed, piece in a field unrelated to my dissertation, and served me well only when I applied for a job the interviewers for which knew nothing of my field but plenty about the field in which I had published).

4

Richard Zach 10.04.05 at 5:34 pm

The results of Brian’s journals survey are here.

5

ECW 10.04.05 at 8:05 pm

I need to speak up for Harry’s students. Only students in the very best programs can afford not to publish like mad. I recently served on a philosophy search at my liberal arts college (I’m a political theorist in political science), and we didn’t even look at candidates without multiple publications, mostly because there were so many with great records. Our reasoning was straightforward — why hire potential when you have so much demonstrated success from which to select? In our case, that applied regardless of the quality of the degre granting institution; I suspect highly rated R1’s may care more about pedigree than production, at least initially.

A slightly different illustration of my point. When I started grad school in 1993 at a second tier school (got into top tier places, but the person I wanted to work with was at the next level down), the very first thing we were told at the orientation session was that we were already behind, and needed to publish if we were ever going to get jobs. That advice was correct. The only people from my program who are now in TT jobs were the ones who had 2+ publications before they finished their phd. Even then, it took most of us 2-4 years in visiting and adjuncting positions (and several more publications) before we got tenure track jobs. And quality was a consideration, of course.

So tell them to publish, and publish a lot, for their sakes.

6

Neil 10.04.05 at 8:14 pm

The “Brian” Richard refers to is of course B. Weatherson. B. Leiter has also addressed the question of grad student publication here:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/11/advice_to_philo.html

and the question of the best journals here:

http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000288.html#000288

In general, I think grad students should be encouraged to publish. First, publishing requires a set of skills that aren’t acquired in other ways, and if the person envisages an academic career, she needs to acquire those skills. Second, philosophy is an activity that must be carried out in dialogue; aiming to get your work out there requires you to think of yourself as a participant in the dialogue. I suspect it raises the quality of the work. Of course, there is a quickly diminishing marginal utility of papers in so-so journals, but students can be working with an eye to publication in the top 10 journals (btw, that top 10 has to include general philosophy journals: publication in J. Phil is always at least as good as publication in Ethics or PPA).

7

Russell Arben Fox 10.04.05 at 9:51 pm

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that Political Theory is much more open to works drawing upon the history of political thought (including postmodern or cross-cultural readings of such); the same goes for Polity and Review of Politics, both very good journals. In other words, I think there remains relatively clear analytical vs. historical divides in political philosophy journals, though the divide probably isn’t as great as it once was.

8

djw 10.04.05 at 10:19 pm

It’s always been my impression that there’s the big 4 (PT, JPP, PPA and Ethics) and then everything else. What constitutes second tier; the next best place to go depends almost entirely on what kind of work you value. Historically inclined folks might look to the journal Russell mentions, critical theorists to Constellations, postmodernists to Representations or the European Journal of political theory, analytic philosophers to mainstream philosophy journals, and so on.

9

Micah 10.04.05 at 11:56 pm

I’m not sure when Brian’s journal survey was conducted, but it would be worth adding Philosophy, Politics, & Economics to the list.

10

Chris Bertram 10.05.05 at 1:56 am

My take on this:

1st tier: Ethics and PPA

then JPP
then PPE
then PT (prestige-wise, though IMHO it tends to be half-full with BS of various kinds)

(History of Pol Thought in there somewhere too for the specialists).

then STP, Utilitas, EJPT etc with Res Publica, Imprints etc not far behind.

But most of the general phil journals would like to publish more pol phil, so they’d be very good places to send things too. Some of the general politics journals also – Political Studies for example.

11

Simstim 10.05.05 at 3:27 am

I concur with Russell and djw that this is hardly a straightforwardly consensual issue. The only political philosophy journal that I look at regularly is Political Theory. Ethics and PPA I find rather dull, mainly, I think, because of their location firmly within the analytic approach and a large overlap with moral philosophy/ethics.

12

Ingrid 10.05.05 at 3:45 am

Graduate students should also take the probability of acceptance into account; even if you think, for example, that PPA ranks univocally above JPP, but JPP has double or tripple the acceptance rate of PPA, you might want to send your paper to JPP (which, incidentally, is probably my favorite political philosophy journal as more papers are about non-ideal theory or cross-disciplinary and informed by empirical work).
For a graduate student, it’s better to have an article accepted in a good journal, than to aim only for journals with an ‘excellent’ reputation and as a consequence have no publications at all.

13

Steve 10.05.05 at 7:54 am

I’m kind of amazed that you were encourage to ‘not publish.’ I would have guessed that graduate students should publish as much as possible. How is it argued that publishing (even in second tier journals) is somehow bad for a job search?
I’m also amazed at the argument that you should only publish in top level journals. Again, someone is publishing in the second tier-if they aren’t being written by graduate students, they are being written by professors. And how could it be bad for a graduate student to publish in the same journals that he will be publishing in as a professor?
And, finally, I don’t understand the comment that instead of publishing, you were encouraged to ‘do philosophy.’ How is publishing in philosophy journals different from ‘doing philosophy?’ That’s what you do as a professor-how could doing it as a graduate student not be good training for your career?

I don’t mean to be particularly critical (sorry if my tone comes across that way). This entire post has me baffled, though.

Steve

14

spencer 10.05.05 at 8:24 am

I’m kind of amazed that you were encourage to ‘not publish.’ I would have guessed that graduate students should publish as much as possible. How is it argued that publishing (even in second tier journals) is somehow bad for a job search?

That’s what I was also wondering. I’m curious to know what harry means by “Good philosophy, in sufficient quantity to make for a plausible job application.” I know that in my discipline, publication is very important, as its the only way to let anyone know you’re actually doing quality work.

So what this boils down to is my ignorance of the mechanics of an unfamiliar academic discipline. I certainly don’t want harry to think I’m being snarky or anything here – I asked because I was (and am) truly curious.

15

Harry B 10.05.05 at 9:15 am

I do think that Philosophy is quite different from many other disciplines in this respect. My other discipline, Education, certainly expects grad students to publish, and to do so in second (and third) tier journals — my sense is that having a number of publications is, if not necessary, at least very useful, in getting a job. Other disciplines I know well (PS, Sociology) are the same.

But Philosophy really is different. First, we publish fewer articles, books, and words, than other disciplines. Second, almost all articles and books are single-authored. Third, it is a discipline in which, still (though probably not for long) most people believe that we have common standards of excellence, and feel equipped to judge work outside their own field of speciality. So, I’m absolutely sure, for example, that if my colleagues read a paper published in PPA that they thought was poor, the fact that it was in PPA would not impress them; if they read something that had been rejected from 10 journals which they thought was good they would not be troubled that it had been rejected. When we have job searches, the committee reads a writing sample for every candidate and every faculty member reads the work of those candidates who come out to interview, and every tenured faculty member gets a vote.

So “doing philosophy” involves writing, certainly, but there is no presumption that only written work that has already been accepted for publciation counts.

Of course, I imagine that publishing something in good journals helps get you noticed — and, as I said, I’m sure that a paper I wrote as an undergrad and published in Phil Studies, helped get me interviews, even though it was outside my discipline.

I didn’t argue that grad students should publish only in top-tier journals; in fact I wouldn’t give that advice (let alone argue for it). But, if you have a nice paper that you think might be acepted, and (rightly) took ingrid’s excellent advice, you would prefer to publish it in a more-respected over a less-respected journal, other things being equal, right?

Neither of you came off as snarky or critical, even before you went to such lengths to be polite, by the way :)

16

A. 10.05.05 at 12:08 pm

> there is no presumption that only written work that has already been accepted for publciation counts.

This is an argument that publication *isn’t necessary* (a point that seems directly contradicted by ecw’s post), not that publication *is harmful,* which is what your original post suggested (and what had many of us baffled).

I don’t agree with the advice, but am curious about the reasoning behind it. Was the idea that if someone read a bad article they would forever associate your name with shoddy work? Or that publishing distracts from “doing philosophy”? (and if so, how?) Or that the inevitable rejections will depress you too much to be worth it? Or was this just a status thing–only those at lower schools need to publish?

17

Chris S 10.05.05 at 3:35 pm

a –

Philosophers in many programs used to be discouraged to try to publish too early – though, as Harry mentioned, this has changed in more recent times. Still, there are those who think that it will distract you from doing better work (e.g., better to write one excellent piece than two mediocre ones). Also, there is probably some status feature to some of it, too (some of the people at some of the very top schools, in the old days, would look down at all the mediocre publishing and say that one should elevate ones standards and publish less stuff.)

Some of this has to do with what you think the value of mediocre philosophy is – some would say it is near worthless – unlike say, mediocre biology, which still makes a contribution (the idea being that mediocre philosophy is just confused).

None of this is to suggest that I agree with this, just that these are some of my speculations as to why people discourage publication too early. The times are changing though, are there are fewer such people around.

18

spencer 10.05.05 at 3:44 pm

Neither of you came off as snarky or critical, even before you went to such lengths to be polite, by the way

Well, you know how it is – sometimes, people get a little touchy out here on the interwebs . . .

19

anonymous aspiring political theorist 10.05.05 at 3:54 pm

(apologies for anon posting, I’m a regular poster who is just paranoid enough about his (hopefully) career to not want my name on this–thanks, Ivan Tribble!)

I had no idea PPE was so respected; other than the Miller/Pogge exchange in the inaugural issue (and Loren King’s excellent essay last year) I’d not paid much attention to it.

Looking at some of the top journals over the last several years, I’m curious if there’s really much of a point for a graduate student, especially one without good connections to the heart of the profession, to send something to PPA or (especially) PPE. Looking over the last several years, there are a vanishingly small handful of published articles from scholars who aren’t at the top of the profession already. It makes PhD candidate like myself reluctant to send them a paper, given the time sensitive nature of our need to publish. It also seems to me as though, some well known scholars would be immune to peer review; given how much Phillip Pettit’s essays in political theory tend to advance, revise and refine the arguments he’s been making about his conception of republican freedom for the last 10 years, it’s hard to beleive anonymous reviewers wouldn’t figure out the author (I use the example of Pettit, whom I consider among the most important and interesting political theorists working today, because he has two 2005 articles in PPE). I don’t know about other junior scholars, but if I were reviewing most recent Pettit essays, I’d be tempted to say something like:

“This is first rate political theory, but the pages of this august journal would be better served by essays with new and innovative ideas, rather than fine-tuning Pettit’s republicanism.”

Or, a recent PPA paper on global justice from Mr. view from nowhere:

“This erudite and well reasoned paper adds little to the ongoing discussions in the Hobbes and global justice literatures, and seems largely unaware that his/her paper is retracing well covered territory in both these literatures.”

In other words, it’s difficult to understand how these papers come out on top in journals that surely have acceptence rates south of 10%, and just happen to be written by the biggest name-brand philosophers in the business. I’d regard my best work as a mild longshot in these journals even if I had confidence that blind peer review was functioning properly. Given what it looks like, it makes trying to publish in these journals seem like a lost cause (this is one reason to prefer Political Theory; if their sin is being too open, such that unworthy weirdness slips through from time to time, I’ll take it over the alternative). Of course, perhaps they don’t get submissions from no-name grad students and underplaced junior scholars because of these fears, in which case I apologize for spreading them.

20

harry b 10.05.05 at 4:03 pm

a – I think chris s gets it about right. I’m not sure how much I agree with of the reasoning. But I do agree with something he didn’t say: that there are opportunity costs to publishing: the time and energy spent trying to please a referee or editor, tarting up the piece, etc, which time might have been better spent working through an argument, or devising another piece. Consider: I could spend the next month trying to revise a pretty good piece to please a referee or, instead, use it to write up a new piece, which will not be publishable for a while, but which a discerning committee will recognise as high-quality philosophy which eventually will be published in a pretty good journal. Which is better? If committees don’t trust their own judgments, the former. If they do, the latter.

I’d welcome other philosophers jumping in on the extent to which they think publishing helps in the job market.

21

Neil 10.05.05 at 7:20 pm

I’m aware that an anecdote is not data but…

My supervisor, like Harry’s, told me not to bother with publication. I was a standout grad student, who would be snapped up at once, and one doesn’t want to get substandard papers out there. I was offered a book contract for my PhD dissertation (by Routledge). My supervisor told me not to accept – I would be too busy grading papers and writing courses to have time to bother with revisions. I listened. He was, after all, a tenured academic, an intelligent man and a nice guy.

I was wrong.

I spent 4 years after I finished my PhD unemployed and semi-employed as a casual. Eventually I published enough, not terribly good, stuff to get my job applications taken seriously. My dissertation came out as a book 6 years later than it might have.

There are opportunity costs to publishing, but they’re smaller than Harry suggests. A lot of the time dealing with referees’ comments is in fact time spent thinking. A lot of it seems really petty at the time, but it helps precision. At least in analytic philosophy, where precision is so important, I think that dealing with this kind of thing is part of our training. I also don’t believe that we really take unpublished work as seriously as published, or that we believe ourselves able to rate work outside our sub-speciality. I quite frequently read a paper and think it’s rather dull or fail to see the point. If it’s in Ethics, or Phil Review, I conclude that the fault is mine, and not the author’s (unless I know the area well enough to be confident of my own judgment).

22

ingrid 10.06.05 at 6:15 am

It is my impression, based on my own submissions to philosophy journals, and referee work, and Oxbridge high table stories, that fame makes a big difference to your probability of getting published in the “best” journals. Especially PPA has a reputation of being a closed circle of “friends”.

It is often easy to figure out who the author of an anonymous paper is, even if you don’t try to figure out actively. It would be extremely naive to think that this doesn’t affect our referee judgement, even if we try hard not to (social and cognitive psychology have provided sufficient empirical evidence to the contrary).

Hence as a graduate student you have to be realistic. There is no leveled playing field, the “top” journals only publish a handful of papers each year for the hundreds or thousands of philosophers who aspire such a top-publication, and the time where you could get a job without publications surely belongs to the past. You can try to send your paper to PPA, but if you don’t aspire a job in Harvard, you’d better have a more realistic plan. Once you are on tenure track or have a 4 year post-doc position, you can go for strategies that take a little more time.

23

Mike Otsuka 10.06.05 at 6:58 am

But most of the general phil journals would like to publish more pol phil, so they’d be very good places to send things too.

A problem with doing that, however, is that, because there’s so little political philosophy in these general journals, political philosophers are not nearly as likely to notice a piece there as they are one in, say, Ethics, PPA, or JPP. Political philosophers in philosophy departments are, however, more likely to notice a piece in a general philosophical journal than in Political Theory, since we tend to skip over that one for the reason Chris B mentions.

24

Harry 10.06.05 at 9:43 am

On word in defence of PPA — if you look at the post 2002 issues you’ll find a different pattern than prevailed previously, I think. I can think of numerous recent papers by people who are not at all well known, and at least one by a graduate student who is not in a well-regarded graduate program (and is, I know, completely “unconnected”, except to me). I completely agree with Ingrid that as a grad student, with short time horizons, the low-acceptance-rate-journals are a bad bet; but people with a bit more leeway shouldn’t rule out sending good stuff to PPA (I have no agenda here).

The people who have chastised me: I shall send our students here to read what you say (a lot of them read CT anyway), but I think people have interpreted my comments as being much more anti-publication than I am.

Michael’s point is woth thinking about. With tenure I think only about audience issues in deciding where to send stuff to; but perhaps as a grad student one is better off getting published in a generalist journal, which is better known in the discipline, than in a political philosophy journal where one is more likely to get an audience. That’s a question more than a comment…

25

Matt 10.06.05 at 10:43 am

My understanding is that PPA only became officially blind reviewed recently, probably when Harry notes. I’m not certain that’s the case, but if so it might help account for any changes. Of course it won’t help with some of the obvious big-name problems mentioned above, but might be of some use anyway.

26

Mike Otsuka 10.06.05 at 12:40 pm

perhaps as a grad student one is better off getting published in a generalist journal, which is better known in the discipline, than in a political philosophy journal where one is more likely to get an audience.

Unless it’s the JPhil or the Phil Review, I’m inclined to think that one wouldn’t be better off getting a political philosophy paper published in a generalist journal. I suppose there are three different ways in which a publication might help a job applicant:

(1) Independently of the process of reviewing job applications, it happens to be read by and impress someone in a department that might hire a political philosopher. This is unlikely in the case of something in even a well-known generalist journal (other than the two above) because political philosophers don’t tend to read, e.g., Nous. And the non-political philosophers who do read such journals are unlikely to read a work of political philosophy there.

(2) It stands out in the initial screening of a job application and adds enough luster to it to advance it to the next stage. Some advantage here, perhaps, in the case of a publication in a well-known generalist journal compared with a less-well-known specialist journal. But not enough to outweigh (1).

(3) It gets read as a writing sample by the search committee or the department. But at this point, as Harry mentions in comment #15 above, people’s own judgment (however reliable) of the quality of the work they’ve read will start to take precedence over the journal in which it was published or whether it was published at all. (That, at least, is my experience in the departments in which I’ve been involved with hiring.)

27

ECW 10.06.05 at 2:56 pm

An important issue to be considered: where will the grad student in question be applying? If only to R1’s of a certain level, then Harry may be right. But if you are willing or even eager (given the atrocious market in philosophy) to take a tenure track job at other types of institutions like liberal arts colleges or regional universities, then publication is vital.

The reason is simple. At the smaller schools the committee is unlikely to have the specialized expertise to discern the difference between middling published work and outstanding unpublished work. If we are hiring a political philosopher, it’s probably because the one we used to have left last year. At best, there might be one person on the committee with core competencies in the area being hired, but even if that is the case, the committee is unlikely to defer entirely the that person’s judgment. That means publication serves as the proxy for direct evaluation. I trust the referees for the journals publishing work outside my areas of expertise, and since that’s really the only criteria I can apply (with regard to research, at least) to narrow my pile of 250 applications to the 3 we will bring to campus, you’d better have some publications for me to trust.

In other words, the “don’t publish because hiring committees will distinguish between great unpublished work and mediocre published work” argument only holds for large universities where the search committee is likely to be dominated by experts in your area. That sort of search committee is not at all representative of the audience for most applicants, assuming they aren’t limiting themselves to R1’s.

28

Matt 10.06.05 at 3:57 pm

I don’t mean this to be an argument, but given the discussion of publishing by grad students in general journals it might be of interest to note that the latest issue of the Philosophical Quarterly has two political philosophy articles, one of them by a grad student, it seems. It also has a very nice review of Harry’s Justice book go give it some ‘local’ interest.

29

Harry 10.07.05 at 9:25 am

Hey, thanks for that Matt — what a terrific review, and by someone I have never had any contact with! A nice boost.

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