The Publish or Perish Imperative: Some Polemical Observations on the Sociological Research Enterprise

By Eliason, Stephen L. | Sociological Viewpoints, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

The Publish or Perish Imperative: Some Polemical Observations on the Sociological Research Enterprise


Eliason, Stephen L., Sociological Viewpoints


ABSTRACT

While sociology has much in common with research that is done in other scientific disciplines, there appear to be some eccentricities involved in publishing sociological research. Based upon my personal experiences as a sociologist and a review of the literature, I identify several areas of concern. These include an overemphasis on quantitative techniques, articles that are needlessly long, lack of writing for the popular press, and an emphasis on research at the expense of teaching. I suggest solutions that, if implemented, have the potential to result in a greater number of opportunities for sociological studies to be published as well as to renew interest among students and non-sociologists in the subject matter. It is hoped that it will stimulate scholars to conduct higher quality and practical research as well.

Introduction

The state of the sociological discipline has been evaluated in recent years (Weeber 2006). Certain areas have been identified as problematic and discussed extensively. For example, it has been suggested that the future of the discipline is in jeopardy because it is fragmented and in a state of disarray (Denzin 1997; Smelser 1999). Other problems include departmental closings and a lack of attention to applied research (Durant 1995; Knottnerus and Maguire 1995). Limited attention has been devoted to the issues associated with publishing research in sociology (Dean 1989; Glenn 1989; Orum 1990).

Research is central to the mission of academics. Part of the mission of the university is to discover and accumulate new knowledge. There is no getting around publishing for advancement in the academic profession. In the academic community, much of a scholar's reputation is dependent upon the publication of his or her research in journal articles and books (Clemens et al. 1995). The ability to publish research consistently enhances one's prestige and is a key factor in determining where one's employment will be within the prestige hierarchy of the discipline (Baldi 1995; Jacobs 1999; Stack 1994). Departments are also ranked according to the number of articles and books their faculty produce (Keith and Babchuk 1998). A greater number of publications leads to greater scholarly prestige.

One aspect of the modern publishing process that is problematic is the emphasis on quantity. Indeed, the tendency is to evaluate scholars on how much they produce rather than using the quality of the work as a standard. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the university has tried to emulate the modern corporation in this regard, attempting to run academic institutions as business enterprises with the resultant 'productivity model' emerging as a byproduct. Just as universities have been referred to as educational factories that manufacture or produce college graduates, faculty are also viewed somewhat mechanistically as machines that serve to 'crank out' research. In this day and age scholars are to a great extent evaluated by the number of publications they have, which is utilized as a measure of how 'productive' they have been. One's worth is determined by how much he or she has produced.

The publish or perish imperative holds for sociology no less than it does for other academic disciplines (Francis and Pratto 1982). Like their counterparts in other disciplines, sociologists are expected to be productive scholars (Kain 2006). In order to secure tenure and promotions, scholars must publish research, get good teaching evaluations, and contribute service to the university (Price and Cotton 2006). And, the process now begins for individuals early in their graduate school experience. While discussing the changing nature of the role of research in academe, a former professor of mine related that in order to simply obtain an interview for a faculty position in sociology now, one must accomplish and produce a volume of scholarly activity that would have been sufficient to secure tenure twenty years ago.

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