Academic journal article Theory in Action

Rebellious Publishing in the Aspiring Sciences

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Rebellious Publishing in the Aspiring Sciences

Article excerpt


In sociology's struggle to be respected as a "hard" science, quantitative research has been valued over qualitative traditions (Blumer 1969). This has been particularly true since the mid-20th century when government money, needs, and legitimation increased the prestige of quantitative methods (Luker 2010). This continues to be the case. By extension, practitioners who self-identify as "scientists" create barriers between themselves and other researchers that connote superiority of method and so-called rigor and reliability of results. Even though sociologists have formally moved past simplistic and naive notions of "objectivity in science" (see Harding 1991), these false distinctions continue to influence which work has more value. For sociologists who are less invested in the identity "scientist," or have a different definition of "social scientist," qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis offer a rich, creative fusion of art and science, and offer deep, valid accounts of people and life worlds under investigation (Lofland, Snow, Anderson, and Lofland 2005). Since qualitative practitioners have been targeted by de-legitimation programs, they at times manage status frustration by "othering" allegedly lesser interpretive forms. Qualitative practitioners create barriers between themselves and "lesser" researchers by sometimes decrying autoethnography as (for example) "not sociology."

Despite autoethnography's stigmatized status as a method of inquiry, structural conditions in the academy encourage it (as well as other alternative styles) to proliferate. This paper introduces itself with my own pre-tenure foray into the disreputed method of autoethnography. I then explore conditions-constants as well as changes-that encourage scholars to utilize undervalued methods of investigation like autoethnography, including: 1) Changing norms in academic publishing that have created more opportunities for sociologists to communicate ideas; 2) The increasing "customer service" demands in higher education in the arenas of teaching, advising, and service; 3) Changes in and impact of scholars' relationship to job security, tenure, and prestige; 4) How limited resources to conduct traditional research encourages autoethnography and theoretical essays instead of more privileged methodologies; 5) And finally, how critical insights can emerge from autoethnography as a style of investigation despite its negative label.

It is important to note that occupational prestige and professional networks are central to the successful production of deviant research. In the publication of my own personal narrative piece, I relied on the "strength of weak ties" (Granovetter 1983) to publish the story; this included good working relationships with gatekeeper scholars (including journal editors and referees) in my subfield. Indeed, "objective" measures of quality interface with subjective measures of quality, and perceptions of quality are informed by status and social networks.

I strived for high quality through a low station. My critical case study pushes on canonized doctrine like a pebble makes a jagged, shallow crack in a thick, glass window. My autoethnography details my seven year struggle with my son in a high-performing school system, and his conversion from pariah to honor student when we changed districts. The story is compelling. Nonetheless, if I had been a first time author, or someone who had never published a traditional ethnography, I might not have had access to conventional print journals. In fact, even if I had networks at "top" journals, I doubt those venues would have opened for my narrative paper.

My manuscript was panned when I first submitted it. Originally it was a journalistic vignette that I wrote for a public sociology outlet. The journal in question accepted my proposal, and invited me to write the full-length piece that I had proposed. When I submitted the draft, the new editors rejected it. …

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