What Did Happen With Political Theory?

by Henry Farrell on July 7, 2009

It sounds as though the putative efforts to remove Mary Dietz as editor have failed, and Sage has backed down. “Inside Higher Ed”:http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/07/07/sage has the details (along with some discussion of the comment thread on this blog, and the recent decision of the American Sociological Association to farm out its journals to Sage.

At the same time Sage was landing a prestigious batch of journals, it was trying to reassure political scientists who have been trying to figure out what was going on with the leadership of _Political Theory,_ a key journal in the discipline and one published by Sage. … unconfirmed reports … coup … While Sage officials insist nothing of the kind happened, and the original editor is in place, another political scientist has confirmed that he was offered and accepted the editorship, then withdrew when he learned of the controversy. While Sage officials will acknowledge only some sort of “misunderstanding,” they admit that whatever it was they were were trying to do was done without consulting the scholars on the editorial board of the journal, and they are apologizing for that. …

Jayne Marks, vice president and editorial director of Sage, said in an interview that there had been “a misunderstanding,” but that Dietz had never stopped being editor of the journal. … declined repeatedly to explain what took place, or to acknowledge that anything had happened. … Asked explicitly about how another political scientist said he signed a contract for an editorship that wasn’t apparently open, and that many political scientists were expressing concern about the lack of information, Marks repeated that everything has been “sorted out” and that she wouldn’t say more.



Zamfir 07.08.09 at 11:15 am

Are these kinds of power struggles not just a hobby for sociologists, like computer people who like to change their operating system when they are bored?


Phillip Hallam-Baker 07.08.09 at 11:50 am

I find these arguments over who publishes the journals a fascinating distraction from the question of whether there will be any role whatsoever for commercial publishers in academic journals in future.

Sage appears to be engaged in the type of mad acquisition frenzy that many a newspaper conglomerate went on a few years back. Like the newspaper proprietors, Sage might well discover that the whole industry has gone buggy-whip on them.

The economics of academic publishing make no sense. The academics are not paid for writing the articles or for editing them. The only value they get from the process is tenure advancement. In the computer science field this is quite literally true, the only reason for reading the journals is to work out what sort of articles they publish. We read preprints from the Web, not the journal versions. If your article is only available in a journal it is available to only 10% of the field, and the least influential 10% at that.

Such economic peculiarities can persist for some time, but they don’t last forever. It does seem rather eccentric to bet on them continuing.


Steve LaBonne 07.08.09 at 3:53 pm

The logic that Phillip points out was already plainly visible when I left academia nearly a decade and a half ago. It’s a constant surprise to me that all this time later, the academic-publishing dinosaurs STILL walk the earth. I suppose that’s a tribute to the conservatism-bordering-on-inertia of academic mores.


StevenAttewell 07.08.09 at 10:52 pm


Academic politics represent the Platonic ideal of the observation that, when it comes to politics, the lower the stakes, the nastier it gets.


I agree, they don’t make sense. Especially in the era of digital publication, it doesn’t seem to make sense to have quarterly or yearly paper publications be the acme of advancement. I’m of the opinion that in ten years, ownership/membership/participation in top-flight academic blogs will replace journal publication on c.v’s.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 07.12.09 at 1:30 am

Buggy whip business models can go on for decades before they collapse, that is not a mystery.

What is a mystery is the willingness to buy out the companies at huge premiums after the buggy whip status is clear. Why did Murdoch buy the WSJ for a squillion dollars?


Steve LaBonne 07.13.09 at 12:10 pm

Why did Murdoch buy the WSJ for a squillion dollars?



Fr. 07.13.09 at 4:53 pm

Sage seems quite proud that “[they] publish well over 500 journals”, notwithstanding the decreasing returns and Gulliver effects associated with the management of so many titles. (Is there anyone who really stumbles on a journal they do not know and think, “this is edited by Wiley–therefore it must be quite good”?) In my ideal world of academic publishing, editors would never handle that many titles. Beyond some critical-mass point, some of the journals will necessarily be mediocre, or will get stricken with pointless editorial conflicts generated by “misunderstandings”.

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