Why establish the new journal Public Anthropologist?
To answer this question I would identify three factors:
- The first factor simply relates to my personal frustration concerning two aspects of the current “publication scenario” or, more broadly, the current production of anthropological knowledge. Firstly, the increasing standardization of the very concrete and creative experience of writing – this is not only related to anthropology, but rather to the global market of publications and the link between publications and academic careers. Indeed, within the academic evaluation system, the journal in which a scholar publishes has arguably become more important than the article itself. While this reflects an ongoing process of standardization of the criteria used to evaluate scientific work, it also – at a different level – poses a series of questions regarding the destiny of anthropology as a discipline engaged with both critique and diversity. Secondly, partly related to this first aspect is the inward attitude of large parts of anthropological debates, with some notable exceptions, of course. Although many anthropologists deal with issues that are directly related to people’s everyday lives, it’s no mystery that, because of a peculiar combination of esotericism, jargon and intellectualism, our work is predominantly read only by other anthropologists.
- The second factor relates to the need to bridge the realm of academic journals with more dynamic fora, such as blogs, websites, magazines, etc. Several academic blogs offer anthropologists opportunities to engage more directly with the public: Allegra Lab, FocaalBlog, Sapiens, Somatosphere to name but a few. Our idea with Public Anthropologist is to create a space for the articulation and complexity of writing for academic publications to encounter the immediacy and vitality of different publication outlets.
- The third factor very concretely refers to the increasing importance given to the public dimension by our discipline. There are book series (with California University Press, for example), university courses, conferences, online fora dedicated to public anthropology. Hence, this journal responds to a transitional shift in public demand.
What is “public anthropology”?
There are certainly interesting margins in the effort to define “public anthropology”, to explore its continuity and, to a certain extent, difference from collaborative ethnography, applied anthropology, and so forth. It is also pertinent to reflect on the relationship and the tensions public anthropology holds with the idea and practice of a moral and ethical anthropology.
The synthesis provided by Rob Borofsky represents a useful starting point:
“Public anthropology engages issues and audiences beyond today’s self-imposed disciplinary boundaries. The focus is on conversations with broad audiences about broad concerns. Public anthropology seeks to address broad critical concerns in ways that others beyond the discipline are able to understand what anthropologists can offer to the re-framing and easing of present-day dilemmas,” www.publicanthropology.org
Public Anthropologist: a new forum for scholars
The Editorial team envisions Public Anthropologist to be a complementary forum for discussions about topics that are crucial for understanding and improving our world.
In its journey into the dilemmas and challenges of the contemporary world, the journal does not aim at standardizing intellectual efforts into specific formatted articles. Rather, it welcomes diversity and creative writing. Articles published by Public Anthropologist should be accessible yet authoritative, appealing yet not sensationalist. It must be the work of a specialist, but without jargon; methodologically rigorous, and yet politically engaging.
Public Anthropologist offers a forum for scholars who care about the impact of their research in the world, but at the same time remain critical of current attempts at standardizing scholarship via quantitative “impact indicators.” In fact, it remains critical of a number of issues connected to academic publishing: peer review power relations, pleasing reviewers, needing patrons, the advantage of being in the right networks, etc.
The Editors of Public Anthropologist are aware of both advantages and limitations of blind review. The journal offers “sighted” peer review as an option alongside the traditional double-blind peer review. “Sighted” peer review promotes dynamic exchanges and open, scientific dialogue between authors and reviewers with the aim of transforming the review process into an open exchange, similar to that of a seminar.
Open access remains a concern in this new editorial experience. Ideally, a journal like Public Anthropologist should be full open access. However, as anthropologists know very well, at least since the publication of Marcel Mauss’s “Essay on the Gift,” nothing in our world is really free.
Three concrete options for a new open access journal to last more than a few issues are: 1. to ask authors to pay (following this trend, predatory journals are growing globally and the level of scientific production is decreasing); 2. external funding (this is the ideal solution – with the understanding that funding is available regularly, and does not affect the editorial work); 3. to exploit voluntary work (indeed, academia has a consolidated history in this form of exploitation, which is worth not reiterating).
This blog will remain open and active in posting original articles, presentations of articles that will appear on the journal, conversations with authors and circulating information related to public anthropology. However, the journal will be available behind a paywall. This is because we don’t have specific funding to cover the costs of publication, we strongly reject the practice of asking authors to pay, and we don’t want to exploit anyone’s work (especially the work of students and junior scholars). For the first two years, however, individuals who subscribe on Brill’s platform will get free access and this will give us time to seek funding. The aim is to have at least some of the contents regularly available as open access, continuing into the future.
Our hope is that this new, exciting and yet challenging endeavor, will contribute to the growing awareness of the importance of anthropological perspective in understanding and confronting today’s challenges and dilemmas.