I’ve been reading Writing for Scholarly Publication: Behind the Scenes in Language Education, and have been struck by the number of established scholars in the book who share their initial reticence and apprehension regarding the task of academic publishing. Out of the 14 chapters I’ve read so far, only one of the writers shares how he feels empowered, and not disempowered, when seeking publication. Without exception the others share the obstacles they had to overcome, internal and external, in their initial efforts toward scholarly publication. Several even voice their continuing sense of insecurity regarding the practice.
Perhaps part of the story is explained by the fact that the 13 authors who express insecurity are representative of groups that are traditionally underrepresented in academia. They are female, Asian, immigrant, non-traditional, or a combination of several of those. The one writer who doesn’t express a sense of disempowerment is American, male, and white.
I think this says quite a bit about where academia was, where it is, and where it is going. It’s unquestionable that access to academic discourse in the past has been restricted to an arbitrary few, and that those few who benefited (and still benefit) from that privilege take the relative ease of their access for granted. But it’s also true that recently the demographics of those with access to publishing has shifted considerably. It is now much more representative of the authors featured in Writing for Scholarly Publication; there are many more women, minorities, and nontraditional students in academia now.
One thing I still feel is missing, though, is that the dissemination of knowledge remains represented by a central source shining outward rather than an interwoven net. Western countries’ journals tend to hold more clout, and the interests and evaluations of their editors and reviewers hold sway over researcher access to their pages, and thus to the legitimacy those journals embody.
While this bothers me in general on several levels, with respect to language teaching in particular, I feel that many of the researchers who tend to have their papers published in major journals are distanced from the classroom, exploring issues of only vague pedagogical relevance to teachers in language classrooms. This lack of a practical perspective in many cases hurts the field in general, because language teachers feel the journals in the field are too distant from their contexts to be of relevance to them.
One way I’ve tried to shift the balance from theoretical to practical is to encourage teachers to publish research they’ve conducted that’s relevant to them and their context. It’s something I believe in so strongly I’ve included a full scholarship for one participant in the online course I teach, MASH Academic Publishing, in the belief that participants, regardless of income, should have access to the course and the benefits it may offer in helping to have their voice heard. My main objective in the course is to make the occluded process of academic publication transparent for those seeking entry into that world.