Hanging with JC in Greenville, Pic from Patty Lou McCall, Can you believe I’ve had that YSL Jacket since I was 18?
Once again, the Southern Sociological Society meetings were a fun and refreshing event. Great to see Dave Gay, John Lynxwiler, Amy Donley, Patty McCall, Jeff Will, Brigitte Neary, and all of the rest. Especially great to see Ida Harper Simpson, 30 years after her presidency, and to get to introduce her to a new wave of students. It was wonderful to be there for Chris Ellison’s presidency, and to introduce him for his truly path breaking address. I’ll say more about that later, as Chris threw down the gauntlet for Christianist apologists like Gorski and Smith, and rightly so.
My main task at the meetings was interesting, chairing and participating in a session organized around Pam Oliver’s wonderfully cogent critique of publishing. Pam’s rants from Scatterplot were revised and published in the American Sociologist, and her opinions are well worth everyone’s read. I don’t agree with everything Pam says in the article, nor does she, but it is an excellent starting point for fixing some problems that need to be fixed, and preventing negative practices from infecting the publishing process. We had a great session organized by Chris Ellison and George Wilson. Pam was on fire, as always. And Jessica Collette provided an informative critique and extension of Pam’s comments. Frankly, it was one of the best panels I’ve been on in my 30 years in sociology.
Here, I want to elaborate some things I said, and make some very specific policy statements for scholars who control the means of coercion in our fields. Our situation is not age old, and it has only been in the last two decades that monopolistic firms have gobbled up ownership of journals, bundled them, and gouged our libraries for horrific fees.
This situation did not exist 20 years ago. 20 years ago, the primary cost of scholarly associations—national, region, subregional, speciality, and international—was printing and mailing the journal. Meetings generally broke even if you found a good place. Anyone who actually did the work back in the day knows this to be true. When Ellison and I edited Review of Religious Research for the RRA, we were almost the only “cost” for the association. Members’ dues and an offset of very small dime library subscribers paid the rest. And, usually, we made money—not a shit-ton, but we more than broke even most years.
But, everyone sold out to the slimebags at Sage, Wiley, Pearson, Elsevier, Taylor….The associations are now being paid money for the journals, rather than having to pay for the journal and mailing and hoping to break even. Please notice that none of the associations reduced or eliminated their membership fees, and there is no open bar buffet at the ASA meeting. I pay over $300 to be a member of the ASA, and they make money on both the journals and the meetings. Administrative bloat in our organizations is creating a climate conducive to rapacious publishers taking over our content. Our work. Our scholarship. Let’s face it, as Pam notes, we write the papers, review the papers, edit the journals, and the universities who pay our salaries then have to pay for our work. But, the ASA has a fleet of offices in DC and hordes of well-compensated staffers….
There is a solution. Abandon all contracts with for profit publishers (indeed, all publishers) and move to a pure online format for all scholarly journals (ASA, SSS, MSS, ESS, PSA, SSSP, whatever). We have no costs. There is no reason to print. So long as scholarly standards remain in the review process, ASR is still ASR, Soc. Forum is still Soc. Forum. With cooperation among scholarly associations within and across disciplines, it could be possible to work out agreements for some compensation—and remember we still pay dues. This is not hard. There will no longer be shit-tons of money available for administrators at some of our organizations (principally ASA, most of the rest I’m in are bare bones), but we’ll still be better off than in the day when our largest budget item (by a factor of 12) was printing and mailing the journal.
Organizational leaders in our associations need to make this a priority. People running for office need to amplify this as a target goal. As a candidate for SSS President, I will move in this direction if elected.