By Diane-Laure Arjaliès, Santi Furnari, Albane Grandazzi, Marie Hasbi, Maximilian Heimstädt, Thomas Roulet, François-Xavier de Vaujany (a shorter version will be published very soon on LSE Impact Blog)
It was a hot and sunny day at the Academy of Management (AoM) Conference 2018 in Chicago. Attendants were invited to participate in a walking conversation about the future of academic publishing. The question of the promenade was clear but complex: What does it mean to publish in today’s world? In the context of this short post, we want to summarize this event and offer three propositions which capture and extend our discussions.
A walk through Chicago’s Millennium Park: a metaphor for the publication game today?
The event started with a tour of the Millennium Park organized by Santi Furnari (Cass Business School). It was an opportunity to explore the key spatial arrangements of the park, such as the Millennium ‘peristyle’ (a receptacle of donors’ names in the shape of a Greek temple), the Cloud Gate (a stainless massive sculpture inspired by liquid mercury), the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and its grandiose sound system and the Crown Fountain with its giant spitting faces. Santi helped us understand the complex processes through which private donors, in accordance with the city, agreed to fund free and innovative public installations to transform the image of Chicago from a gangster town to a global, contemporary metropolis. Throughout, we investigated how space, power and history were intertwined and materialized in the installations of the park themselves, shaping the day-to-day life of the city, and portraying its future.
Picture 1: The Millennium Park on the day of the tour (Source: Diane-Laure Arjalies, CC-BY)
The tour was a way to better know each other and to create the lively and informal atmosphere necessary for tough discussions to unfold. Right after the tour, sitting on the lush grass of the park, we were ready to exchange about an essential practice in our everyday life: publishing, and everything it entails.
Although submitting and revising papers is essential to most contemporary academics, very few actually know its ancient origins. The first scientific journals arose during the Enlightenment, when a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy emerged as a way to advance ideals like liberty, progress and tolerance. It is during this flourishing intellectual period that journals, like Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (March 1665) and The Journal des Savants (January 1665) emerged. After decades of great variation, publication routines became more standardized towards the end of the 19th century and – from philosophy – have expanded into other scientific fields, before penetrating organization studies and management in the aftermath of the Second World War.
What has happened since then? Over the last decades the process of reviewing, revising and rewriting has increasingly been digitized, a process closely linked to new digital tools, many of which are expected to make the publication process more documented and transparent (see the recent debate around open peer review practices). Yet do these new tools and practices provide an experience similar to the one the Millennium Park brings to the people in Chicago or is it just another fig leaf? Are we offering publication infrastructure that is more inclusive, transparent, and less conflictual – or are we simply hiding and legitimating practices of exclusion and gatekeeping under the guise of openness?
How do academics experience the review process?
Key to any academic publication is the reviewing process. At the core of this endeavor is a professional community entitled and trusted by their peers to guarantee the quality of the work and protect the integrity of the intellectual legacy: editors and reviewers. Through a (single or double) blind peer review process that often includes multiple rounds that can span over several years, this professional community provides formal assurance that the papers eventually published are original and contribute significantly to the advancement of knowledge. In our peer-to-peer system of academic communities, the review process is at the heart of our identity. It is a fundamental practice to define who we are and what counts as scientific knowledge. It is the knowledge validated by our community, in a horizontal peer-to-peer fashion, after a long intersubjective process starting with first presentations in seminars, conferences and submissions to journals followed by rounds of reviews and final publication.
The peer review process is central to most academic communities today. In a previous discussion of the network organizing our walk in Chicago, a participant suggested that any modification or removal of the review process could result in something close to the Mann Gulch disaster, where the chief of the firemen abandoned his equipment and put fire around him (which his colleagues did not understand – he was trying to create a counter-fire). Giving up the key practices attached to the occupational identity of firemen led to the collapse of collective sensemaking, which resulted in the death of many. Since reliable structures, shared meaning and trusted leadership matter to the joint success of our academic community, we chose to envision the alternative path that no fireman at the time could embrace for fear of losing who they were: to jump into the area that had burned as a way to be reborn.
Elaborating on a previous online discussion that led to 18 propositions, we put forward three propositions that are not fundamentally new but that we see as helpful shall we want to strengthen a culture of care and broad-mindedness in academia. We did our best in the formulation of the propositions to maintain the continuity of our identity in the discontinuities introduced by some new practices.
Three propositions to open the review process to care and solidarity
Propositon I: Opening the review process to collective care: towards Well-Being Indicators (WBI)?
Our first proposition is to build an open peer review system where reviews would be available online, alongside the published papers. Open reports will allow open comments from the wider community. This simple decision could help render visible the invisible efforts of reviewers, paying homage to the contribution of most of the collective building of knowledge. It could also alleviate the tendency of a few to use their anonymity to impose their power on those who resist or who do not display the attributes of academic status or success. For instance, behind the veil of anonymity, some reviewers can express a dark side of power, subjectivity linked, for instance, to intellectual interest or some unethical behaviors. Sometimes, citations and bibliographies legitimated by the peer review process can be subject to social or gender biases (see here).
In accordance with open peer review process, we suggest that journals publish on a yearly basis the statistics regarding the types of papers, authors and institutions that have jumped the hurdles of each round. Uncovering such information is necessary to understand and assess the current academic practices, and if necessary to improve them. Another concrete idea related to this proposal could be to ask authors to assess their level of stress and well-being at different moments during the review process. Beyond impact factors, all journals would be incited to diffuse their well-being indicator (WBI) managed by independent, public organizations or open communities.
Yet one should also be aware that opening the review system could also foster other kinds of violence, e.g. against reviewers and editors. Widespread circulation and criticism of reports, without structured possibilities for reviewers and editors to respond might put the review process at risk. Conversely, a lot of time could be spent on justifications to authors and the broader communities spurring useless and unproductive debates. The process could then turn into violent open justice trials whose public’s right to know could threaten the reviewers’ right to disagree. Finally, there is a question of resources: while journals in major publishing houses sit on a mountain of resources, most fully open access journals have to make cheeseparing economies to survive, and heavily rely on individual researchers’ resources. For them, setting up those open practices and indicators would be a lot more challenging.
Proposition II: Opening our minds to the rest of the world: towards connected journals and meta-narratives?
Most academic practices remain largely dualistic: teaching versus doing research, building versus communicating knowledge. In particular, we do research and communicate in the context of different academia loops. Data are collected, treated, analyzed. Then a paper is written following academic journals norms. Hence, the relevance of the content of academic papers for our fellow citizens often remains to be elucidated. Such dichotomist behaviors have resulted in numerous debates about the social, material and temporal gaps between research and practice, whose conclusions often invite either to a better alignment or innovative radical changes. Despite these calls, specialization slowly pervades academic life resulting in the building of silos between us and the rest of the world.
Yet at the same moment, an increasing number of conferences try to experiment with new forms of knowledge transfer and with ways to communicate the results of research in a more timely and impactful manner. The number of platforms and social media has also exploded (e.g. Twitter, The Conversation, Medium, etc.), providing researchers with new ways to disseminate and translate their research into actionable propositions for practice and policy. In the midst of this renewal of our connections to time and others, academic journals seem oddly petrified.
With this in mind, we suggest opening existing journals to alternative digital formats that would enrich the content and broaden the impact of the articles through new channels of communication. Journals have already started to include videos, cartoons, practitioners’ summaries or blogs. We propose to expand this transformation towards new protocols, such a new scientific media (see for instance the experiments around the OWEE protocol), video journals (see the special issue on filmic research by the Journal of Marketing Management), abstracts for both academics and practitioners (see the example of the Strategic Management Journal), new meta-narratives (i.e. journals continuously mapping a field in a narrative way), etc. The core idea underlying these changes is to bring academics and practitioners together in hybrid practices, and to foster both continuities and discontinuities in the way we write collectively research.
Proposition III: Opening our field as a whole: towards the open source for all?
More and more open journals and open events have emerged in academia in the last decade. Some of them are a reaction to publishers’ established political and business models. Drawing on open culture, the Do-It-Yourself and Hacker movement, researchers have begun to run all logistical aspects of the publication process. The legal property is not anymore the property of a publisher or a university. It is a common good, accessible to anybody. Paternity and authorship remain visible but not constraining.
Open culture is not anymore a practice exclusively implemented by open journals and open events. More and more traditional conferences rely on the openness of open communities in their codes and practices (e.g. their proceedings follow creative common procedures). Universities, national funding research programs, start imposing that a working version of any accepted paper published with the use of public money be accessible for free on their repository.
Meanwhile, many academic journals, under the umbrella of major publishers, continue to sell access to their content at extortionate price, using once again public money to access research, which has often already been funded by public money. Faced with this hard-to-believe but nonetheless existing situation, one question remains: Why do we let for-profit companies privately appropriate the value of the public good to which we all contributed whether as authors, reviewers or editors?
Several solutions could be envisioned. First, we could engage into a collective conversation with publishers about their added value and the cost of this added value. Second, we could strengthen and prioritize the journals published by our own academic organizations, which are governed and owned by their members – i.e. “us”. Last, a more radical move could be to shift existing journals towards open-access ones, through the collective resignation and reincorporation of entire editorial boards. If other disciplines have done it, why couldn’t we?
At a time when intellectual discourse seems to be divisive, we hope that, through these three humble propositions, we could contribute to the creation of safe, stimulating arenas for all academics to engage and grow intellectually. Fair and reliable reviewing processes are not only key guarantees of the collective building of knowledge, they are among the ultimate swords in defense of truth in a world in the growing grip of deceiving trust. Preserving the legitimacy and authority of such process is necessary if one wants to avoid the defeat of an announced tragedy: “They don’t know it, but the truth is the work is there to be done, and a man can’t fold his arms and refuse to do it. They say it’s dirty work. But if we didn’t do it, who would?” (Creon, Antigone, Anouilh)
Presentation of the authors
Diane-Laure Arjaliès is an interdisciplinary scholar, Assistant Professor at the Ivey Business School, Western University (London, Canada). An ethnographer, she investigates how the fashioning of new market devices and collective actions can help transform markets toward sustainability. She is currently working on the rise of financial technologies and their impacts on society and the development of Indigenous forms of business and accounting that accommodate the spiritual and cultural beliefs of Aboriginal communities.
Santi Furnari is Professor of Strategy at Cass Business School, City, University of London. He studies how new ideas, new practices and new industries emerge, particularly in the context of creative industries and creative projects. To address these issues, he uses institutional theory, configurational approaches, qualitative methods, and fuzzy-set/Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fs/QCA). His paper titled “A Chemistry of Organization” (with Anna Grandori) has been among the first empirical applications of the fs/QCA methodology in management studies.
Albane Grandazzi is a doctoral student in Management Sciences at Université Paris-Dauphine and SNCF Voyages. Her research focuses on mobility practices in train stations, particularly from a spatial and temporal perspective. Albane is a member of the Paris chapter of RGCS (Research Group on Collaborative Spaces). Within RGCS she currently works on a method called OWEE (Open Walked Event-based Experimentations).
Maximilian Heimstädt is a postdoctoral researcher in organization and strategy at Witten/Herdecke University (Germany). He is interested in the role of digital technologies in new and more open forms of organizing, particularly in the fields of open government, open innovation and open strategy. As a performative practice, he currently works on an open textbook on organizational openness.
Marie Hasbi is a PhD candidate in Management Studies at Paris 2 University. She is exploring the lived experience of organizational space in the trend of the New Ways of Working. She previously worked as an engineer and a human resource manager in Finance industry.
Thomas Roulet is University Senior Lecturer in Organisation Theory at the Cambridge Judge Business School and a Fellow in Sociology & Management Studies at Girton College, both at the University of Cambridge. His work focuses on negative social evaluations (stigma, disapproval, scandal) and critical realist methods to address those issues.
François-Xavier de Vaujany is a professor of management and organisation studies at Université Paris-Dauphine, PSL. He is particularly interested in digital innovation and new work practices (e.g. digital work, remote work, flex work, mobile work, coworking, distributed work, slashers, digital nomads, hacking, etc.), how they emerge and how they are legitimated in organisations and society.