No aspect of being an editor is perhaps more daunting then sorting through contradictory reviews given about a manuscript that is outside your area of methodological or theoretical expertise. To put together three volumes of this journal I have been required to make decisions about manuscripts involving rhetorical theory and methods. Unfortunately, I lack experience and expertise in this area. That is why journal editors have reviewers, persons whose opinions I can request and then use in making my evaluations. Reviewers provide advice to the editor, ultimately; the editor is and must be responsible for the content (the acceptance and rejection) of manuscripts.
The following questions have invaded my conscious thoughts during this time: (1) Is rhetorical reviewing different from scientific reviewing? And (2) Where does one go to learn about the requirements for publishable rhetorical scholarship? Admittedly, those questions are focused on my shortcomings. If the question involved issues about scientific research, my experience (some would call that arrogance) gives me the ability to feel as though I can and should make a decision. But, when you are outside of your domain, the reliance and trust that you place in others is greater and the higher the level of uncertainty about whether your evaluations are reasonable or not.
The classic scenario for me involves the receipt of three reviews. The reviewers all agree that the manuscript represents a competent piece of rhetorical scholarship and is well written. All three reviewers recommend rejection. I would look at this and shudder, how does one reject well written and competent scholarship? I can tell you that for most scientific writing if the piece is well written and the design competent, the chances at publication are very high. This puzzled me and made writing rejection letters rather difficult, why would one reject well written, competent scholarship?
I asked at least 15 different older and experienced rhetorical scholars some questions about the standards for "publishable" rhetorical scholarship. My question was what constituted sufficient material in a manuscript for publication, was competence enough? Suppose a manuscript came in that did a very good job of using a neoAristotelian analytic perspective to analyze Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. What a good analysis justify publication? Everyone answered no, that competence was not enough to warrant publication. I did then ask what more would be required for publication and everyone said some version of "the analysis would have to offer something new." Now, for me, that is not unimportant, but it is a buzz word, because what is new? Brummett's essay in this section does a good job of dissecting that issue and the kind of double bind (although it would probably be called a dialectic tension of some sort, the current term for a reinvention of the conceptual wheel currently popular). While the word provides a goal, the unpacking of what that word entails and how one meets that standards to me were a bit fuzzy.
I asked for elaboration, whether new meant that the phenonmenon had to be one unstudied and if unstudied was that new, if the theoretical perspective had to be new (I did ask if a neoAristotelian piece could ever be published and received mixed answers ranging from no, possibly, to yes, if....). Most persons said that the scholarship had to contain an argument that related to theory and extended our understanding of theory. I did ask, "how do you know it does that?" Getting beyond the statement of standards or requirements to the nitty gritty of what has to be present in a text for it to be considered publishable was difficult to assess. Many times I heard essentially some version of the definition of pornography, one could not define it, but you knew it when you saw it. My essay does not challenge that assertion, my goal is the explication of what such a view entails and the implications of embracing such a view. …