Authorities, Canons, and Scholarship:
The Role of Academic Journals
Arthur B. Evans
Scholarly journals such as Science Fiction Studies, Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, and Extrapolation which specialize in publishing academic criticism on science fiction are sometimes described as wielding a certain “authority” in the field. But how can such authority be defined? If it does exist, where does it come from? Over what or whom do they supposedly exercise it? And how does their perceived authority influence the canonization of certain science fiction texts instead of others?
It might be claimed that any notion of “authority” automatically implies both an established hierarchy and the ownership of a certain power due to one's standing within that hierarchy. As managing editor of a scholarly journal, I willingly concede the first of these two implications. A piece of sf criticism published, for example, in one of the above-named scholarly journals is probably more likely to be “authoritative” (i.e., accurate and trustworthy) than if it were to appear in People magazine or Better Homes and Gardens. But I have substantial doubts about the second. Exactly what “power” do academic journals like Science Fiction Studies, Foundation, and Extrapolation really possess ? Let us examine the facts. First, we serve a very small and very specialized sector of readers and literary scholars—so we do not exert any appreciable influence over sf fandom or public opinion in general. Second, we are not normally considered to be among those venerable, “prestigious” academic journals with tens of thousands of subscribers—so our influence on university officials in important matters such as tenure decisions and academic promotions is undoubtedly quite modest. And third, our financial status as nonprofit scholarly publications ranks us among the very poorest in the publishing industry—so we do not have any measurable economic power that might be used to sway contemporary publishing practices.
To further illustrate this point, let me briefly explain how our editorial procedures work at SFS. First, a manuscript is received by any one of our five editors. That editor acknowledges receipt of it with an e-mail message, letter, or postcard to the author and then distributes a copy of the essay to the other four.