Continuing the Conversation on "What Constitutes Publishable Rhetorical Criticism?": A Response

Article excerpt

The motivation behind this conversation about what constitutes publishable rhetorical Scholarship--and how reviewers seek to recognize it--stems from a fundamental, albeit largely unintentional, omission in the constitutive discourse. For all the attention and instruction given to the question of what constitutes a publishable essay, the role of the reviewers rarely enters the discussion even though their influence on the publishing process is significant. Except in the rarest of cases, it is likely that any given article found in one of our professional journals is, at least in some part, influenced by the reviewers' comments. It bears their imprint, whether directly in language or ideologically by having received their approval. In this sense, a reviewer is not just the critic for a particular submission, but also plays a strategic role as a collaborator on the project. Considering reviewers in this light better enables us to appreciate the commentary provided by this issue's five contributors and to proceed in our task as respondents to their insights. As the previous essays have pointed out, the question of what reviewers do and how they go about doing it is both understated and essential, and we agree that the role of the reviewer needs more attention in our discussions about professional scholarship.

Of course, recognizing this need in our professional discourse is much easier than satisfying it. As this issue's contributors demonstrate, the question of reviewership can never be answered definitively, but can only emerge as a conversation that demands much of its participants. Indeed, when we participate in the academic publishing process--whether as author, reviewer, or editor--we necessarily enter into a conversation, the end product of which may be a published essay offered for the general consideration of others in the field. Obviously, this conversation benefits from its members adopting a reflective, critical stance. But the questions raised by such a stance are difficult because they ask us each to consider how we strive to achieve some balance between our personal biases and our professional obligations. This negotiation may constitute, to borrow from Barry Brummett's language, an additional series of "double binds" in the reviewing process. As reviewers, we are asked to contemplate what a given manuscript may mean for us both as experts in a particular area of study, but also as generalists in the field. This is a difficult position to negotiate and makes commenting on how to do it all the more difficult--and important.

As we write this response, we are mindful of Rod Hart's (1976) words of caution, penned more than twenty-five years ago: "The refusal by any field of inquiry to launch periodic, self-reflective examinations is surely a very special kind of arrogance" (p. 70). In order to avoid a little arrogance of our own, let us suggest from the outset that what we offer here is merely one response to the process of criticism and critical responsibility. We offer it as our contribution to the mix. We are grateful for the opportunity to insert our thoughts into this conversation. By so doing, we hope to engage an important ongoing disciplinary dialectic. We know in advance that total agreement is both impossible and unnecessary. In our view, participation is the sine qua non. Our purpose here is not to provide definitive instruction on what constitutes publishable rhetorical scholarship and how to critique it. We feel that this issue's contributors have provided much to think about along these lines, and our task is not to whittle down their statements into a final set of criteria for "good reviewing." We agree with them that the key to good reviewing lies with people and arguments more than with rules and formulas. We see this response as an opportunity both to explicate some ideas from the general discussion and throw in our own ideas for consideration. Our response will track those areas we find most intriguing with respect to the present conversation. …