My “Ask a Journal Author” Answers, All in One Place

Early in 2021, Ilana Gershon asked me to participate in a series of “Ask a Journal Author” columns for Anthropology News. I’m reproducing my answers here in the form that they originally appeared (as opposed to broken into a series of topical posts) in the “interview” because: 1) it’s like an actual conversation, 2) having them in one place makes it a little easier to read, and 3) the sequence of their posting in Anthropology News didn’t follow the original sequence of the questions and answers. I’ve linked to where the answers appear on the Anthropology News blog, so you can read other peoples’ answers (which make some of my answers seem controversial); I highly recommend checking out how other people answered the same questions.

Ilana Gershon: When does deciding an article’s “home” become important for you during the writing process? Do you write an article knowing the potential venue(s) that it might be published in or do you just write an article first and then figure out where it could be published?

Matthew Wolf-Meyer: I start thinking about homes for articles pretty much as soon as I start writing them. As the structure of the piece starts to come together, I consider where I might send it and then continue to work on it with that journal—or a few journals that are similar in their generic requirements—in mind.

This has changed a lot for me over the last decade. Pre-tenure, I was really focused on publishing “enough” rather than publishing in specific journals. That led me to mostly publish in journals that I knew well and knew would be supportive of the kind of stuff I was working on. For me, that meant a lot of journals focused on medicine and the body. But it also included more intra- or interdisciplinary social science journals whose audiences I knew I could write for in compelling ways. 

After tenure, I decided to target all of the flagship journals in cultural anthropology, particularly those hosted by Anthrosource. I would study a year’s worth of issues to get the formal elements of articles published in a particular journal down so that I could write to form. That necessarily also shaped the content—i.e. did it start with an ethnographic anecdote or not?, how much of a literature review did articles have?—but it was all in the service of adhering to a particular generic form. At the time, I was also working with the archive of material that made up my dissertation, some of which ended up in The Slumbering Masses, but a lot of which ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. That allowed me to try and match specific kinds of outtakes and arguments with journal interests.

These days, where I send an article is more after-the-fact. I tend to write a talk each year—either a colloquium talk or a set of conference papers that, once strung together, make up a long-form talk—that ends up turning into an article. Once I have it in hand, I think through the various journals it might fit with. Because generic forms at journals are pretty glacial in how they change, the work I did in studying journals continues to pay off.

One of the things I’ve learned that no one ever taught me is to pay close attention to who the editor of a journal is when you’re considering submitting something to it. Because my work can be a little unconventional, both topically and content-wise, I’ve found that identifying editors that are sympathetic to the kinds of projects I do helps a lot. It means they know the right reviewers to ask and that they know how to work with the reviews they receive.

[Read more answers to this question here.]

IG: When you receive a revise and re-submit, how do you typically approach the reviewer’s comments? How much of those comments should be included in the revised draft (Note: it might help to talk about an example)?

MWM: I just wrote a blog post about this. Revision is a pretty visual process for me—I highlight parts of the peer reviews and editor’s letter that are important to address, sort them into an ordered list as to how they will appear in the manuscript, and then cross them off as I go.

That said, and maybe one day I’ll write a book about it, I tend to get some pretty…different reviews than most of my friends. This became apparent to me early on, but I didn’t know it was a trend until much later. It was especially the case with the sleep project that people would kind of free associate with the content, often not really offering critical comments on the content of the article so much as working through their own thinking about sleep—maybe for the first time. I had to learn pretty early on how to parse that kind of therapeutic process for peer reviewers from the stuff that was germane to the article and its future. And that’s something that I needed to learn to be able to conceptualize. Generally, we think about peer review as being about the author of the article and that peer reviewers serve as a kind of superego. But I’ve come to see that sometimes the peer reviewer is going through their own introspective process when they confront something that they haven’t thought about before. That can come out in pretty different ways, only some of which are generative for revisions.

That trend of weird peer reviews has continued with the projects on communication disabilities and fecal microbial transplants. In looking at friends’ peer reviews, it’s pretty clear that when people work on areas where there is a lot of interest in Anthropology or cognate fields, they get recommendations from other specialists on that topic—which makes a lot of sense and can be usefully detailed. But, because I often work on stuff that doesn’t really have a lot of specialists within Anthropology, it gets sent to specialists in medical anthropology or psychological anthropology or science and technology studies. Which is all great, but it often means that they can’t speak to the matter at hand as directly as specialists might. I often recall looking at a friend’s peer reviews for an article on HIV/AIDS. All of the peer reviewers were experts in the social study of HIV/AIDS and they knew so much technical and scholarly material that they helped point my friend toward. But for me, I often get very general kinds of suggestions, I assume because the reviewers I pull don’t know the small literatures that my work comes out of.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: How do you react to a piece that has been rejected? Do you burst into tears, curl up into a ball, fume at the editor and reviewers, get back to the drawing board – the possibilities are endless…

MWM: Frankly, I usually just send it out to another journal within 24 hours. Unless there’s something in the peer reviews that is really critical to rewriting the piece, I’ve found that working through the peer reviews for a journal that rejected the piece is largely a waste of time. If it’s just going to be sent out by another editor, there’s going to be a new set of reviews with their own concerns (which might counterpoise the old reviews). 

That was a hard-learned process and in the past I spent way too long revising manuscripts that were rejected before sending them elsewhere only to receive even more reviews to work through. I’m sure I learned a lot in the process of working through those revisions, and that that has sped up the time-of-submission to time-of-acceptance for later articles. But most of what I learned is that a rejection is usually not about the content of the article but its fit at a particular journal with a specific set of readers. 

In terms of incorporating peer review feedback, there’s one piece in particular that I always think about in relation to this kind of question. A reviewer asked that I engage with an author that I didn’t think was particularly germane to the argument. I did, but placed the discussion in an endnote. It went back to that reviewer and they were pretty insistent that the discussion should be in the body of the article, which it now is. It sticks out to me, and I imagine that it does for other readers too, but maybe not. Over time, I’ve really come to understand that my relationship to peer review has changed. In the beginning, peer review was really instructional for me and helped to learn how to write better articles, steered me toward literatures I didn’t know, and made me more explicit in my claims. But now a lot of my engagement with peer review might be better thought of as negotiating compromises. It’s not so much that peer reviewers surprise me anymore but that I need to find a way to move between my plans for the piece and the needs of readers.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: At what point do you decide that it is better to try and publish a piece in a different venue instead of trying to re-submit a revised article to the same journal? 

MWM: The closest that I recall coming to this kind of experience takes a couple different forms, which, maybe strangely, both have to do with editorial shake-ups.

The first is with a couple of pieces that took a very long time to work their way through peer review. One was because of an editorial transition at a journal where it got lost in the shuffle. But that shuffle took something like a year to work itself out, and when the new editors finally got up to speed, they accidentally sent out the original version of a manuscript that had been substantially revised. When it came back to me, I considered pulling the piece and sending it to a new journal, but the new editors worked really hard from that point forward and made things move pretty quickly. 

The other time I actually pulled a piece wasn’t because of the content of peer reviews (which were pretty supportive), but editorial concerns. I had sent something to Hau and received the reviews just as #Hautalk was emerging on Twitter. It quickly became clear to me that publishing with Hau was the wrong thing to do, so I quietly pulled the piece from consideration there and sent it elsewhere.  

[Read more answers here.]

IG: When working on a book, what are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing the chapters individually as articles as you work on them?

MWM: For The Slumbering Masses, I basically dissembled the content of the dissertation and repurposed it as a set of articles and then proceeded to dissemble the articles and write the book. Only part of one chapter appeared as a slightly shortened version as an article. Otherwise, although a lot of the empirical content was the same, it appeared in very different ways in the book. Which is all to say that getting feedback on the article manuscripts was helpful, but not necessarily for the purpose of turning them into a book.

With Unraveling, I only sent out one piece that would later end up in the book—again, a shortened version of a chapter. It took longer to get through peer review than the book manuscript did and ended up coming out about six months before the book came out. A second piece got sent out when my editor told me I was 10,000 words over for the book manuscript, so I snipped out a roughly 10,000 word section of a chapter that could stand alone and got it under peer review. And then a third piece was assembled from some leftovers.

That set of experiences really has convinced me that books are books and articles are articles and parsing them out isn’t really worth it. Because I’m at a point career-wise that I don’t have to write articles for tenure or promotion, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to write books as books and save the article writing for putting together leftovers from the book writing process or writing to target specific audiences. Being able to conceptualize a book as a unified whole means that it can really be a different kind of object that a set of reworked articles.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: Is there any merit in thinking about an article submission as a way to get feedback on a work in progress?

MWM: Absolutely. As I was working on Unraveling, I had a talk that I would give and always get some…mixed feedback on. It was all about Anthropology’s fixation on the speaking subject as an ethnographic object and basis of subject formation. It was really the kernel of the critique of at the heart of the book and I used the opportunities to engage with diverse audiences to see what kind of feedback it elicited. At the same time, I sent it out for peer review to a few journals, basically fishing for peer reviews. Don’t get me wrong: if an editor was excited about it, I would have pursued publication. But they universally weren’t (which I’m not going to read too much into), and it never came out as an article. Even in the book it’s very different than the talk I would give or the manuscript I sent out. So it was really helpful to get a wide swath of peer reviews to a pretty serious critique of Anthropology’s dependency on speech. I’m deeply appreciative to all of the reviewers and audience members who weighed in on that piece—it made the book much better.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: What are the spoken and unspoken metrics of publishing in your experience? Do some types of publications or venues count more than others?

MWM: This has changed a lot thanks to the internet and databases like Anthrosource. It seems to me that the esteem that people have for the flagship journals is really an artifact of the bygone era of people receiving paper copies of journals in the mail and the limited real estate in those journals—so getting something into one of those journals really meant getting it in front of most anthropologists in the days when every AAA member received a copy of American Anthropologist. But now, every Wiley journal (and more) are available through a quick search on Anthrosource, and that really seems to have leveled the field in many respects.

The outcome is that it’s less important where one publishes and more important that what one publishes is accessible to people in the field. I’m sure that some tenure and promotion and hiring committees still value publications in some journals over other journals, but in terms of impact it seems increasingly less important that one places a piece in a particular journal and more important that they place it in a journal where it will be read by the right people.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: To what degree does publishing either in another language or an international, non-English publication count towards your standing as a scholar or tenure and promotion in anthropology?

MWM: German is my only other language and what I work on isn’t German-based, so I’ve never sought out publishing in another language. That said, my work has been translated into a few languages (Serbian, German, & French) either because someone identified a piece they wanted to translate, I was invited to give a talk and then it was translated, or I was invited to write something that someone else was going to translate for me. In the case of Germany, that seems to have led to further opportunities to give talks and publish in German, which has been great.

Those pieces have all been superadded in the sense that I had already met the expectations for tenure and promotion, so I wasn’t spending precious time working on translations. As a pre-tenure scholar, I would be very wary of publishing in translation unless I had a clear indication from all of the people in my department that it was valued the same as publishing in English. Watching friends publish in their field languages and in journals hosted in the areas in which they work has made it clear that not all tenure and promotion committees really value that kind of work and those kinds of publications—it might be best saved for later in one’s career.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: What are the pros and cons of publishing outside of anthropology?

MWM: There’s obvious stuff—reaching wider audiences, pushing oneself into new conversations—but in my experience, the best thing about engaging with different disciplines is getting a richer sense of how other disciplines conceptualize what counts as evidence. Anthropologists are so committed to certain kinds of Geertzian description and Butlerian accounts of the self that it’s really helpful to call that into relief sometimes. We all know that we work with relatively small samples sizes, and the generic conventions of contemporary ethnographic writing work with those limitations (or obscure them!), but becoming aware of how else one can make a compelling argument with the evidence at hand—or better, how to rework evidence to be compelling to other audiences—can be really intellectually satisfying.

I used to give talks to sleep scientists and health care workers and what I always enjoyed about it was drawing lines between their and my ways of knowing. Because a lot of my work on sleep can be read to be pretty critical of American sleep science and medicine, being able to work on those connections with live audiences who weren’t shy about providing feedback was really helpful. It meant that when it was time to publish those critiques, I already had a sense of how to make them compelling to non-anthropologists.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: How would you approach the process of publishing something in a non-anthropological journal? What are some strategies to think about prior to submitting an article for review?

MWM: Over the last couple of years, I’ve started publishing in bioethics journals. I read a lot in bioethics, and teach some of it with regularity, but it was with some trepidation that I started to target publishing in bioethics. Formally, the articles are very different, and the content can be pretty different too. I set about reading through a couple volumes each of a few of the bioethics journals and then wrote to their expectations. After years of writing for anthropologists, it was kind of refreshing to write for a different kind of audience—and to get totally different kinds of peer reviews! I learned pretty quickly that bioethicists are up for a disagreement, they just want to have the disagreement be robustly argued. So I received peer reviews that were like “I totally disagree with this position, but the evidence is compelling and you should publish it,” which I honestly can’t imagine getting from an anthropological audience.

Bioethics as a field is also really in need of anthropological thinking, and there’s a recurrent call from a small set of critical bioethicists that bioethics needs more empirical research (and more capacious ethical frameworks), so it seemed like a real opportunity and challenge to address that. We’ll see what comes of it, but increasingly I see targeting Bioethics journals over Anthropology journals for a lot of my work.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: Do you have any suggestions for how to approach writing and publishing pieces that are more theoretical instead of more ethnographic?

MWM: I’ve found that theory-heavy article manuscripts are slow to publish. I don’t mean the kind of “here’s a new idea to think about” or “let’s take Foucault to the field” kind of theory pieces, but the “here’s what Deleuze and Guattari mean by ‘minor science’ and how it applies to Anthropology” kind of pieces. 

It seems to me that what readers usually actually want is a novel twist on a familiar idea, particularly with a good ethnographic case study. What they have a harder time with is an obtuse idea that challenges anthropological conventions, including familiar forms of empiricism and evidentiary claims. Which is all to say that theory in articles is usually a pretty limited tool, constrained both by the process of peer review and the word count of a typical article. The one caveat I would make about this is that the further one is into one’s publishing career, the easier it is to publish something explicitly theoretical. That’s a function of style and reputation more than the content of an article—anonymous peer review just becomes impossible over time, at least for careful and attentive readers. It also just becomes more possible to make bigger claims when you can cite a lot of your other evidentiary work to support it.

[Read more answers here.]

IG: Any suggestions for co-authoring articles?  Are there useful strategies for dividing up the work?  What kinds of agreements do you like to make when beginning the collaboration?  

MWM: I’ve co-authored a couple pieces with then-current grad students, Celina Callahan-Kapoor and Chris Cochran, both of which were a lot of fun to work on. Chris was enrolled in a graduate seminar with me and everyone had to co-author a paper. He was the odd man out, so we teamed up to work on a paper together. Celina and I had talked about doing something together for a while. In both cases, I basically had a framework for an article I wanted to write, had written a pretty long introduction, and then worked with the co-author on developing case studies to support the theoretical portion of the piece. In one case, it ended up being two parallel cases (one from me, one from my co-author); in the other case, it was a really long case from the co-author. Cultural anthropologists don’t regularly co-author stuff, but I found it a really important mentoring opportunity and hope more people take similar approaches.

I learned a lot about writing together through two pretty formative relationships—first, with a cohort mate in an MA program, Davin Heckman, then with my dissertation adviser, Karen-Sue Taussig. Davin and I wrote a ton together, particularly while we were editing an early online cultural studies journal, reconstruction. Later, Karen-Sue and I put together a special issue of Medical Anthropology and co-authored the introduction. In both cases, I really learned that what’s key is to give space for other people’s expertise—and really, to know who you’re writing with and what they bring to the table. That all said, I also learned to have a designated reviser: before peer reviews come back, make sure you know who’s going to take the first pass at revisions.

If I can make a closing statement about publishing articles—and maybe books too—developing a certain level of disinterest in the process is vital. So often, we are encouraged to conceptualize our writing as an extension of our self: my research, my ideas, my style. Criticism a manuscript in the form of editorial comments and peer reviews then feels like a criticism of us as a person. Paul Manning once described academic articles as the PowerPoint presentations of our business. I think about that a lot. At once, we’re told that publications are integral to our place in the profession, but then we’re also told that very few articles are ever read by anyone other than their peer reviewers. Academic publishing is kind of like playing the lottery—are you going to publish the thing that breaks from the pack and gets widely read and cited? You can try and play that game, but there are psychological and emotional costs, and being widely read and cited aren’t necessary for being hired or promoted or entry into the scholarly community. Dispassion is difficult to nurture, but going through peer review—and doing peer review—can be a step in the right direction.

[Read more answers here.]

On Having an Ax to Grind

“Productive scholars have an ax to grind.” That was a lesson imparted on me by one of my undergraduate mentors, Brian Murphy. We were walking across campus during my senior year, and I had been talking about the possibility of pursuing some kind of graduate degree, at the time in Literature. Brian was narrating how, despite enjoying the scholarly work he had done throughout his career, he never felt particularly driven to participate in the arguments motivating many scholars in the discipline. (Little did I know that the postmodernism debate was in full rage mode at the time.) Frankly, I didn’t really know what to do with the advice at the time, but I tucked in away.

A man comes to get his ax ground, sometime in the Middle Ages? (From Married to the Sea)

While I was working on the Master’s degree that followed (in Science Fiction Studies at the University of Liverpool), I had things I was interested in, but the work was driven more by curiosity and expediency than having a real argument to make. Over time, the thesis I wrote there developed more of an argument and ended up being publishable as a couple of articles about superhero utopias and the role of law and capital in superhero comics. But to this day, I’m not sure I have much of an ax to grind when it comes to superheroes.

It was while working on revising that content that I received a second piece of advice, this time from Hai Ren, a faculty member I worked with at Bowling Green. Hai suggested that to write a dissertation, one needed “three theorists.” Hai’s point, as I understood it, was that you need some parameters on the ideas that you’re working with, and that having three theorists — who, he suggested, one reads in their entirety (queue up the qualifying exam reading list) — gave a writer the ability to play off differences and consensus between sets of theory. If I wasn’t sure what ax I had to grind, Hai gave me a way to craft one.

I’ve made the same recommendations to students over the years, but I add that the theories that one adopts should really be ontologically compatible. So monists and dualists don’t go together, nor do communists and free marketeers, nor biological determinists and social constructionists, etc. I had started thinking about this after reading Judith Butler’s The Psychic Life of Power, where she draws together Freud, Lacan, Bourdieu, Foucault, Kristeva, Irigaray, Hegel (and others, I’m sure, but memory fails me). Butler’s “toolbox” approach struck me as eliding the profound differences between a thinker like Freud, who really believes in some form of biological determinism, and Foucault, who really does not. You can put them together, but you can’t really build a sound theory out of them because the ontologies don’t fit together. That is, unless you find ways to treat some thinkers as existing within an ontological paradigm developed by others who you take more seriously (e.g. Freud’s use of biology is a form of Foucaultian discourse and not really materially reductive. But I’m skeptical.).

If you go look at the introduction to The Slumbering Masses, I’m pretty explicit about using three sets of theory and having an ax to grind: I’m trying to work through the overlap between Bruno Latour, Bernard Steigler, and Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, and I’m trying to bring them to bear on how we conceptualize the interaction between medicine and capitalism in the U.S. That means, in part, that I’m rejecting medicalization as a way to think about human nature and its interactions with capitalist forms of medicine (which you can read about here).

That doesn’t mean that I’m only working through the theories that come out of those four, white, relatively elite, able-bodied, heterosexual French men. I’m intensely aware of who these men were (and are), and use their monism to engage with other thinkers (especially Genevieve Lloyd and Moira Gatens, two Australian Spinozist philosophers) and the subfield interests I have (especially science and technology studies and feminist medical anthropology). Those engagements helped me suss out things from the theories I was using and guided me through my interactions with those rather large fields of literature. It also gave me a way to talk about things like my “contributions” to the field and the “significance” of my research (scare quotes to denote my general skepticism of that kind of grant-speak criteria). In saturated areas of study, being clear about your theoretical commitments can also make clear what you’re doing differently than other people working on the same topic or area of study.

I try and get students to think about what they believe. Stop thinking through the ecumenical polytheism of graduate study, and consider what kind of world you want to make with your scholarship. What is the ontology that you’re committed to? And who are the right thinkers to join to that project? It shouldn’t just be people that you enjoy reading, but people (and sets of theories) that you fundamentally share a common sensibility with. In committing to a set of thinkers, what differences can you map out between them and how might they guide your interactions with key concepts in your field? That can provide a ton of grist for the mill, both in terms of the initial dissertation, but also in articles and other spin-off projects.

I have other axes to grind — especially around racism in science and medicine — and those too are informed by my theoretical commitments. Having a pretty solidly determined ontological commitment gives me a framework to engage with whatever springs up. And, over time, I’ve changed the people most central to the projects I work on now. But having a set of theoretical commitments helps to guide what and how I read as well as the kinds of questions I ask about the phenomena that I’m drawn to work on.

It took a while, but now I have axes to grind…

Diversifying the Network

In one of the first meetings I had with my dissertation adviser, Karen-Sue Taussig, she recommended that I read Catherine Lutz’s “The Gender of Theory” and “The Erasure of Women’s Writing in Sociocultural Anthropology.” (If you haven’t read them, go read them right now.) Lutz makes two interrelated points: despite the number of women working in sociocultural anthropology, they tend to get cited less frequently than men, and when they are cited, they’re cited as providing empirical evidence that supports an argument rather than theory that can be tested or employed. (And if you think that was a problem of the 1980s and 1990s, you can read the follow-up, “The Problem of Gender and Citations Re-raised in New Research Study” [although the link doesn’t seem to be working…] and then mull over what’s really going on in pieces like this.) At the age of 25, and a few years into my graduate studies, I might have been in just the right frame of mind for such an intervention. It resulted, immediately, in a hyperawareness of my citational practices — and shaped the kinds of questions and projects I wanted to pursue.

One of those projects has been steadily diversifying the network, both personally and professionally. In 2017, I was asked to comment on an early version of Nick Kawa, José A. Clavijo Michelangeli, Jessica L. Clark, Daniel Ginsberg, and Christopher McCarty’s “The Social Network of US Academic Anthropology and Its Inequalities,” and reading its final version was a stark reminder of just how much work is to be done. If you ever wanted evidence of that, here’s Kawa et al.’s data rendered in one handy image:

kawa social network us anthro.png
A network analysis of Ph.D. placements of tenure-track faculty based on where their degree originates and where they were hired. See more here.

Here are some practices to consider if you want to disrupt the reproductive tendencies of the discipline at every level. My guiding principle is that power is meant to be subverted, and whatever meagre institutional and reputational power I have should be used to make more inclusive social and institutional networks.

Every year when I’m pulled back to the American Anthropological Association meetings, I make sure that I participate in two panels. One has to include a majority of people who I’ve never been on a panel with before; and one has to include at least 50% recent Ph.D.s (or in-progress ones) and contingent faculty or “independent scholars.” Sometimes both of the panels meet both of the criteria. I’m not sure that I have much draw on my own, but whatever draw I have should be shared with less secure or established scholars than myself. Beyond that, I want to be exposed to ideas and research that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. I can read my friends’ work any time, but curating a panel with strangers on a topic of my choice lets me engage with new content and publicizes it for others. It also means that my network grows in these AAA-related spurts, and I’ve watched my network permanently diversify over the years through this practice.

If you keep having the same conversation with the same people, something is wrong. Even if those people are diverse, if the network stabilizes, it’s not being as inclusive as it could be. It can be hard to exclude old friends from conferences, workshops, special issues of journals, whatever, but if the collective project is to diversify the network, they should be doing the same thing to you. And this leaves you open to be included in other people’s efforts. Stale networks are pretty obvious, both from the inside and the outside. My guiding rules are a place to start to disrupt reproductive tendencies, and I’m sure that employing them will help refine a system that works for other people.

If someone asks me to do something and I can’t, I suggest a junior scholar or someone at a non-elite institution (or both). If I can’t do something — a talk, peer review, a conference panel, whatever — I always try and make sure that I provide at least three names of people who might fit the role. My preference is always for younger people than me, although I’m very sensitive to my ability to say “no” and the obligations younger scholars fell toward saying “yes.” That said, I will commit to doing something even as over-commitment if I know that the next person to be asked is someone who isn’t as diversity-focused as I am. Better a white person with an eye towards diversification than one who isn’t diversity focused (or at least that’s how I console myself).

I don’t just count citations; I also consider how a citation is being used. This is true for syllabuses and publications. I tend to start syllabuses by piling up books and articles that I’m sure I want to include in a class, and at that point make sure that the foundation of the class is diverse (i.e. at least 50% books by women, with attention to minority status ensuring that 50% of the books are also from authors from underrepresented backgrounds). After I put the rest of the syllabus together, I go through it and make sure that it’s diverse throughout. In cases where I have to include a dead, white, male writer, I make sure that the texts around that person are by other kinds of writers. I tend to make sure that 60% of a syllabus is comprised of non-white male contributors. I also try and make sure that theory and evidence are supplied equally by all of the contributors to the syllabus. (If you think that teaching the canon means only teaching dead white guys [or living ones], just remember that it’s not in the canon if it hasn’t reached the point that non-white, non-male scholars are discussing it!)

In terms of publications, I tend to make a first pass through the manuscript citing as few people as I possibly can. Part of that is pragmatic — I don’t want to get hung up on inserting citations, and if there’s a lot of new stuff I’m planning to cite, I prefer to do all of the data entry and management during the revision process. But the other part is that I learned in the past that I over-cite. I would tend to cite too many things and then have to remove them to reach the word limit I was shooting for. I found that having to remove citations was harder than having to put them in afterwards, and that working this way helped to see who I really needed to cite. Moreover, it meant that when I was inserting citations, I could be more deliberative about who I was citing for what. Like with my syllabuses, when I do have to cite a dead white guy, I try to ensure that the citations around him are more diverse. And when I have to engage with a lot of white guys, it’s usually because I’m doing some critique…

All of these citational practices are aspirational, and I’m sure that not all of my publications meet the criteria I’ve set for myself over the years. That might be hypocrisy, but it’s also due to requests from peer reviewers and editors to cite certain work and the stark reality that working in some corners of academia means there are limited sets of scholars to engage with. The solution to the latter is to develop frames for one’s work that are capacious and bring in perspectives from feminism, critical race studies, disability studies, class-focused research (not just Marxism), and postcolonial studies. The solution for the former — sometimes — is to just not cite those people, despite requests (which gets easier to do with seniority).

When serving on hiring committees, one of the implications of Kawa et al.’s research is the need to make sure that the committee is institutionally diverse. One sure way to at least contest the dominance of particular departments in the placement of Ph.D. holders into tenure track jobs is to have people who aren’t from those institutions serving on hiring committees. If your department lacks people that fit this criteria, have a faculty member from another department serve in a non-voting, consultative role. I served on a committee like this years ago, and it was helpful because the person from outside of Anthropology couldn’t have cared less about the institutions that people were coming from since his discipline had different elite institutions; he helped to focus other committee members’ attention beyond institutional backgrounds. If that sounds uncomfortable, you could have someone go through all of the applications and redact institutions, people’s names, and acknowledgement sections. (If there isn’t an Adobe macro for this, there should be…)

I’m convinced that underlying a lot of the resistance to change in the academy is a fear of being displaced in the present and the future, especially in the context of fears about the end of the tenure system and job scarcity. Wholesale displacement is unlikely, but some marginalization is inevitable. But that’s in relation to a century and a half of dominance in the university by white, male voices, so it’s relative to total dominance. Incrementalism can get a bad rap, but when the allies in power are faced with their own potential obsolescence, a gradual approach can make important headway while ensuring that the threats to individuals are mitigated. Changing institutions is a long game, and keeping the end point in mind while addressing the concerns of the present is one way to ensure that change will come, however gradual it might be.

These practices are a start towards diversification. If you have other suggestions, post them in the comments or provide links.