Laura Stevens on Peer Review at the TSWL


To follow up on the recent discussion about evaluating digital scholarship, Gena Zuroski pointed me to this very thoughtful essay about peer-review by Laura Stevens as Editor of the Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature.  Stevens weighs the crowd-sourcing experiment of Shakespeare Quarterly against maintaining a double-blind review process, and wonders whether it is even possible for identities to remain hidden when so much scholarship is previewed one way or another before it ever reaches “published” status.

On balance, Stevens decides that the type of scholarship and the mission of the journal demand that they stick to the current format.

The virtues of open feedback are great, but having viewed well over a thousand readers’ reports in my tenure as editor, I am convinced that most readers provide a more forthcoming assessment of our submissions when their identities are not disclosed to the authors. Such feedback of course can be difficult to read—we all have our stories to tell of stinging reports on our own work—but on the other hand we cannot dismiss the positive comments of anonymous readers as flattery, and that must always be a worry when the authors and readers are aware of each others’ identities. In sum, I feel that more would be lost than gained if Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature abandoned anonymous review in favor of open approaches. I may contemplate setting up an open, online review for a single article or small collection of submissions in the future, as a way of fostering this relatively new mode of scholarly interaction. For now, though, this journal is sticking with the traditional, confidential mode of peer review.

Change at any level, in any form, is always difficult in academic settings, because of the presumption that an innovation will create more problems than the status quo.  And this is probably as it should be, considering the importance of academic culture for preserving and transmitting what otherwise would not get preserved in a money-driven, presentist economic environment.

What reflective pieces like Stevens’ essay demonstrate, however, is that maintaining the status quo is itself problematic in all sorts of ways, involving its own complications, and demanding its own cost/benefit analysis, such as the one that Stevens provides here.


PS: I should also mention that Stevens also announces that EMOB’s own Anna Battigelli is joining the TSWL board.  Congratulation, Anna.


One Response to “Laura Stevens on Peer Review at the TSWL”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Laura’s comments on the pros and cons of traditional and so-called “open” reviewing are characteristically thoughtful. She warns that traditional reviewing may be more open than “open” reviewing:

    As at many conferences, submissions would be likely to receive more attention in direct proportion to the status of their authors or the fashionableness of the topics discussed. This bias would be a significant problem for any reputable journal, but I think doubly so for a feminist one, as it would perpetuate entrenched hierarchies of status and rank rather than providing spaces in which our most junior or most marginal scholars could receive a fair hearing for their ideas. This could be particularly damaging to graduate students. Online reviewing also would value the voices of those more technologically inclined and equipped, disregarding those who do not have the knowledge, the information technology support, or the general wherewithal to participate. In some of the most crucial ways—in ways that affect whose work receives detailed commentary and whose work is published—traditional forms of review still seem more open to me than what we are now calling “open” review.

    It may be important to recognize that reviews fostered by new technology may simply be different in kind than traditional reviews. The medium is the message.


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