December 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 9

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PubsComm: Getting the Word Out

Karen A. Cerulo, Rutgers University, Chair of the ASA Committee on Publications

In large associations, it is sometimes difficult to get a full picture of what committees and subcommittees actually do. Thus, for several years, the Chair of the ASA Committee on Publications (otherwise known as PubsComm) has written for Footnotes, reporting on different aspects of our work.My article joins those of Michael Hout (2008), Christine Williams (2010), and Robert Zussman (2011). 

Who are we?

PubsComm consists of six members elected by the ASA membership; we serve three-year terms. Voting members also include the ASA President and Secretary. PubsComm meets twice a year, once for a full day at the Annual Meeting and once during a December weekend in Washington, DC. Editors from each of the ASA’s eight journals, Contexts magazine, and the Rose Book Series attend the meetings, although they are not voting members of the committee. Sally Hillsman, the ASA Executive Director, also attends our gatherings as do two wonderful ASA staff members who work regularly with the committee: Karen Edwards (Director of ASA Publications and Membership) and Janine Chiappa McKenna (the ASA Journals and Publications Manager). Of course, in addition to these meetings, we confer regularly via e-mail, talking as a full committee or as a series of subcommittees devoted to specific tasks.

What We Do

PubsComm works on several different issues. However, one of the committee’s primary tasks involves recruiting editors for ASA journals. When openings occur, a PubsComm subcommittee generates a list of potential editors, all of whom are then invited to apply for the position. We also post print and web announcements about openings in order to reach a broad audience of applicants.

In my time on the committee, I have seen as many as seven applications for an editorship, but I have also seen as few as one application. If editorial work is attractive to you, submitting an application is a good investment—one that carries a high probability of success.

This year, our committee began something new to encourage ASA members to be more involved in the selection process. Once receiving all of the applications, short, anonymous “vision statements” were posted on the ASA website ( so that members could share their reactions to would-be editors’ ideas.

With applications and feedback in hand, a subcommittee of PubsComm reviews the candidates and, at the December meeting, makes a recommendation to the full committee. The full committee then ranks the applications and makes a recommendation to the ASA Council. ASA Council has the final say—and yes, they sometimes overturn PubsComm’s recommendations.

In 2012, we searched for editors of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and Sociology of Education. In August 2013, we will start the process for several other ASA journals. If you might like to toss your hat in the ring, read on! I will briefly discuss what an editor does to “get the word out” on sociological research.

What Editors Do

It is true that editing a journal is a difficult task. It takes much time and effort, lots of attention to detail, and, often, difficult decision making. It is, however, very rewarding work that gives scholars an opportunity to mold the direction of the discipline. Thus, while editing differs from original research, it makes an important contribution in developing the sociological canon. Is it a job for you? Perhaps some thoughts on editorial work may help you answer that question.

The first task of an editor is to assess a journal’s mission and consider the interests of its readership. New editors review the founding intentions of the journal; they also frame the publication’s current concerns and set an agenda for the future. Changing editorial visions as they occur over time keep a journal dynamic and relevant.  Where would Sociological Theory be, for example, without the fresh eyes and attention to change that each new editorial team brings to the ever-developing landscape of theory? Where would Social Psychology Quarterly be— a field with ever evolving approaches (i.e., symbolic interactionism, theories of social structure and personality, exchange theories, expectation states theories, etc.)—without editors’ sensitivity to the various ways of knowing?

The second job of an editor is to create a narrative—a dialog between the articles within an issue, across issues, and across pieces published in related journals. While the quality of manuscripts is always of primary concern, so too is the “fit” of manuscripts—where a piece falls on an intellectual map and how it links to the conversation within a journal. Of course, it is this dialog that maintains a journal’s impact ratings, something that editors strive to increase.

Editors, along with their reviewers, are teachers and mentors as well. Through detailed feedback, constructive and thoughtful criticism, and intellectual engagement, editors work to bring the best out of authors. They help authors to clarify, underscore, target, and focus as well as fine tune and clearly express ideas. Even for authors whose work is rejected by an editor, it is the editor’s job to “part company” in a way that gives an author something on which to build.

Finally, editors are administrators and managers, perhaps the least attractive part of the job, but a critical function. Editors must keep their reviewers from delaying a decision on a manuscript; encourage authors to make timely revisions and corrections; and attend to copyright issues and keep manuscripts moving through the production process. Keeping one’s readership intact requires the regular predictable appearance of quarterly or bimonthly issues.

Editorial tasks are many—and the direct financial compensation to editors is minimal. ASA journal editors do not receive the large stipends that many non-association journals provide, although ASA does pay for each journal’s editorial office. (However, PubsComm is currently reviewing the ASA’s editorial honoraria—something that has not happened since 1981) While there is little financial incentive, editors do enjoy professional and intellectual rewards. Editing can make a difference. It may even be the best postdoc one can get. 

As PubsComm Chair, I have enjoyed the opportunity to address issues that help get the word out in sociology and make it more attractive for people to say “yes” when that editorial invitation hits their inbox. Thanks to my wonderful committee for their energy and hard work, and thanks especially to Executive Office staff for charting the waters for us.

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