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Monday, July 22, 2019

Interdisciplinary Publishing

Hi folks. This is my second post in a series on being a junior, interdisciplinary, multi-subject prawf—you can find the first post here.

In my last post I said that “[i]f all I focused on during the next 2–4 years were projects that fit easily within the format and timeline of law review publishing it would be virtually guaranteed that much of what I bring to the table would fade away.” Recognizing that is one thing, figuring out how to avoid it via, among other things, one’s publications is entirely another. (I should also note that the law review cycle & format don't represent logistical challenges for all  interdisciplinary legal scholars who want to remain interdisciplinary.) 

After the jump, I’ll outline a few things that are beginning to make themselves clear to me. I'd love to hear from other interdisciplinary folks about their goals and their approaches to realizing those goals via publication strategy.

First, for me, being an interdisciplinary scholar means speaking to two very broad audiences (in my case, law and law & society) using both my disciplines (law and anthropology) and I can’t really do that if I don’t go to where those audiences are. This means I want to publish in both student-edited law reviews and peer-review law & social science journals. I also eventually want to produce books, which are increasingly a valid scholarly currency among legal academics and are necessary signals of credibility among social scientists. This isn’t the only way to be interdisciplinary—you might be primarily or solely interested in bringing discipline “A” into conversation with discipline “B,” in which case you would likely emphasize B’s publications, conferences, and internal debates to see where you can make an intervention using A. But it’s the approach I find compelling. 

Second, I recognize that publication outcomes may not be evenly distributed between both types of journals or between presses that specialize in one field or the other. There will almost definitely be an imbalance in any given year but there is also quite likely to be an imbalance overall, especially pre-tenure. I don’t really think this is cause for regret: I feel I owe something special to my primary affiliation (how successful I am at delivering on it is a different issue). But I don’t think—and I’ve had some pushback on this from fellow junior legal anthros—that the imbalance needs to be great or that having any kind of imbalance indicates some level of failure.

Third, at least as far as my own work is concerned, timing or spacing publications for each type of venue does not pose as much of a challenge as one might imagine. Because I am trying to maintain a commitment to both law as a topic and field research as a method, I don’t construct specific articles for peer review versus law review journals. Instead, I tend to think of “projects” that have life cycles of several years and that are centered on some kind of fieldwork in the expectation that these projects will generate publications suitable to each type of venue. (I would say I’ve gone through two such “projects” so far, but they are proving to have long after-lives and aren’t really over yet.)

Over the course of any project’s life cycle, the pieces that somewhat de-emphasize field research tend to appear at the beginning and at the end. This means that, for the bulk of the project, I’m working with at least one long-horizon writing task and one that has a short- to mid-range horizon, and it means that I can’t work sequentially on publications as I would probably prefer to do. But it also means that I can realistically hope to speak to multiple audiences over a limited period of time.

As that last point suggests, there are costs to making this particular type of attempt at interdisciplinarity. For me, the most immediately obvious cost has been the way my writing instincts now occupy a kind of no-man’s land. For instance, I find it very hard to write a paper that’s over ~ 35 pages in Word, but I also find it very hard to write a paper that’s not heavily footnoted (and when you’re writing an 8,000–10,000 word peer review article—not “essay”!—every footnote or bibliographic entry represents serious opportunity cost). There are also now at least two different sets of canned phrases and sentence structures that irk me. My introductions and abstracts are too short for law review editors and on the long side for peer review editors. And I have lost the ability to instinctively format footnotes in either Bluebook or Chicago Manual of Style; these days I have to sit down with a citation guide before I send off any manuscript whereas at various points in the past I could write in either format from memory. (I know I should probably use citation software but I’ve never gotten into it and the initial learning curve always puts me off.)

Much of this is a problem of imperfect code-switching, inasmuch as we think of bodies of scholarship as extended conversations one has with an audience of peers and with oneself. I’m hopeful that the ability to move between writing styles develops in the same way as the ability to move between languages or linguistic registers: with the kind of fluency that comes from time and practice. In the meantime… I have a book chapter, a law review article, and a peer review article to finish. 

Posted by Deepa Das Acevedo on July 22, 2019 at 12:05 PM in Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ, Peer-Reviewed Journals | Permalink


AnonJR, it's always comforting to know that you're not alone even (especially?) when it comes to relatively small challenges like intros and abstracts. The 250 word abstract is so ingrained in me that when I try to write a longer, more detailed abstract it often becomes my introduction and then I write a whole new abstract to replace it. But I've been working at saying more without saying exactly the same thing again in my introduction (and then again my conclusion).

I hear you on the pre-tenure monograph; as you probably know there have been discussions about that here on Prawfs and I may touch on that in a future post as well. The *most* "pro-monograph" advice I've come across has been to do it if you can simultaneously produce "some of" the more traditional tenure requirements at your institution (whether these involve law review articles only or some mix of law review and peer review)... probably not as many as would guarantee tenure on their own, but also not a solitary law review article during your pre-tenure years.

Posted by: DDA | Jul 22, 2019 5:48:23 PM

I strongly relate to many of the points in this post as someone in much the same boat. I'm especially in the same boat about short intros and abstracts, or at least too short for law reviews.

More broadly, my approach to the interdisciplinary life is similar to yours in that I also think that letting any of the research interests lie for too long means that I won't be thought part of the relevant community anymore, so I find myself constantly thinking about giving to each Caesar his due.

One thing that I'm currently puzzling over is whether to write a monograph pre-tenure. I feel like now's the perfect time for an intervention of the type I'd like to make. At the same time, I also feel like I would need to work uninterrupted for a time. That occasions fear that the other spheres I'm currently juggling would fall.

Posted by: AnonJR | Jul 22, 2019 4:11:44 PM

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