November 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 8

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From the Chair of the ASA Committee on Publications

The Pursuit of Scholarship,
Innovation, and Transparency

Christine Williams, Chair of the ASA Publications Committee (2008-10)

The ASA publishes eight journals, three section journals, one book series, and a magazine. For three years I have served on the ASA Publications Committee, the last two as its chair. Now at the end of my term, I have been invited to reflect on our activities and accomplishments.

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Christine Williams

Pubs Com, as it is affectionately known, consists of six elected members, plus the current ASA President and Secretary. Our job is to oversee the Association’s publications. It’s a wide-ranging mandate that covers everything from recommending editors and new journals to Council to allocating journal pages and monitoring acceptance rates. The most important function of the committee is to support the work of the ASA journal editors. Editors are remarkable people who give selflessly of their time and energy to produce this thing we call sociology. I hope everyone realizes that editors do not get paid for their hard work. They deserve our collective praise, again and again. Next time you see an editor, give her or him a big hug and say thank you, even if they have just rejected your manuscript.

Pubs Com meets in person twice a year and communicates regularly via e-mail. We invite editors to join us and give input into policy matters during the majority of the meeting, and then the elected members meet in executive session for voting. The closed door nature of these sessions is explicitly intended to protect confidentiality, but it can appear to be the proverbial smoky back room and has occasionally drawn criticism for this reason. Recently, Gary Alan Fine, editor of Social Psychology Quarterly, advocated a series of "sunshine initiatives" to make Pubs Com processes more transparent and open. We now post our agenda and our decisions on the ASA website and encourage input from members. We also agreed that the committee chair should periodically write a column in Footnotes about our activities.

Assessing Candidates

During my first year as chair of Pubs Com, five journals transitioned to new editors, an unprecedented number for the committee to handle in a single year. Last year we selected new editorial teams for Journal of Health and Social Behavior and Social Psychology Quarterly. Technically, Pubs Com does not "appoint" the editors; Council does. However, this role is not merely "advisory"; Pubs Com does the work of assessing all aspects of the candidates and gives Council a ranked list of one or more options. Council must select from the Pubs Com list or return the recruitment and recommendation process to Pubs Com. While not happy with this ASA policy, I couldn’t be happier with the editor selections during the time I have been on the committee.

Next year, Contexts and the Rose Series in Sociology will transition to new editors. Pubs Com puts together a subcommittee for each publication in its transition year, which includes the outgoing editor. These subcommittees identify candidates for the editorship and provide them equivalent levels of information as they develop their proposals for submission to the whole committee. If you, or someone you know, might be interested in editing the Rose Series or Contexts, contact Karen Gray Edwards, ASA Director of Publications (publications@asanet.org) or e-mail me and I will make sure your inquiry ends up in the right hands (cwilliams@austin.utexas.edu). Instructions on applying were included in the September/October issue of Footnotes (with additional details available online).

Challenges Ahead

The primary mission of Pubs Com is to insure that our journals, book series, and magazine are edited and well run at the highest level of our disciplines’ standards. I think we are successful in performing this function, and we are always open to suggestions from readers and authors about how to improve. Pubs Com is also interested in considering and developing new ASA publications that reflect vibrant yet underserved areas in sociology. This is a more challenging goal. (I understand that 25 years ago the committee rejected a proposal for an upstart new journal called Gender & Society—which is like a recording studio turning down the Beatles!) During my term on Pubs Com, the committee approved a new section journal, Society and Mental Health, and we have been very pleased with the journal’s progress toward its first issue. We also revised the guidelines for starting new section journals, with the hope that greater clarity would result in more potentially successful proposals for new publications. Council recently approved the new guidelines, and I hope that more sections will apply. It is curious to me that some of the biggest ASA sections are not represented in ASA journals. My own view is that there is room for new journals in culture, organizations, labor, and sexuality.

Another challenge for the ASA Publications Committee is to stay up-to-date with changes in the world of publishing. ASA aims to be "just behind the curve" on adopting new electronic media. On a personal level I understand that (I do not own a cell phone, for example), but on an organizational level, I’m not sure that’s always the best approach. I want to see more innovation—including more scholarly content and more varied formats on the ASA journal websites. The Contexts website is terrific, but it is a labor of love, reflecting the vision and commitment of our current editors Doug Hartmann and Chris Uggen as well as the financial support of the University of Minnesota. If you have never visited contexts.org, do it and join the thousands who check in every month. I also want to give a shout-out to Jerry Jacobs, who has been a sort of electronic gadfly during my service on the committee. We shouldn’t need his encouragement to embrace 21st century communications, but we do, so thank you.

A great deal of minutia consumed my time as chair of Pubs Com. I won’t miss that. But I also had a lot of fun serving on the committee, thanks to the members and staff—Karen, I’m talking about you. Pat Martin is also finishing her three-year term on the committee, as is outgoing Secretary Don Tomaskovic-Devey. Pubs Com is now in the able hands of elected members Bob Zussman (chair), Cecilia Ridgeway, Neil Fligstein, Jeremy Freese, Karen Cerulo, and Peggy Levitt; ASA President Randall Collins; and ASA Secretary Catherine White Berheide. logo_small

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