Worth Sharing: Mieke Bal: Let’s Abolish the Peer-Review System – Media Theory

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

EXCELLENT article.
I have experienced many of these issues myself. As an adjunct and sessional instructor, I am treated as “less than” by a great many in the academy – not based on my work, but rather based almost solely on my social “caste”.

Rules rule, overruling people.In this short commentary, Mieke Bal sets out her ten objections to the peer-review system in academic publishing.

Source: Mieke Bal: Let’s Abolish the Peer-Review System – Media Theory

  1. It entails a heavy burden on scholars who should spend the little time they have to do their own work.
  2. The procedure and its formalism and duration win over quality discussions involving the coherence and originality of a journal issue, collective volume, or book series.
  3. The system is fundamentally conservative. Since the judgments are asked from people established in a field, these may not welcome innovations that can potentially challenge their fixed views.
  4. The result is often the opposite of what the system aims to achieve. When asked to review a submission, one tends only to accept reviewing papers or books either by friends or people with whom one agrees, more or less; or by people with opposed views, so that one can trash it.
  5. The effect it has on the academic world in general. For, the system reinforces hierarchy. This discourages especially as yet unknown young authors who feel subjected to a Big Brother they don’t know.
  6. On the other side of the power divide, the system disempowers editors, who are no longer in a position to select the articles of journals or the books on their list in connection to one another.
  7. Peer-reviewing slows down the already slow system of publishing, so that especially contemporary subjects suffer a backlog.
  8. It is unfair to PhD candidates or other young scholars, whose position in the “flexibility” cult of the “neo-liberal” university – which is neither new nor liberal, in case you misunderstand the term to mean what it says – who often are required or expected to publish before they can hand in their PhD dissertations or be appointed to a postdoc.
  9. The system is an instrument for turf policing, not even solely aiming at the conservation of a field as unchangeable, but including worse, acting out resentment towards colleagues whose students will suffer from bad will among their seniors, with which they have nothing to do whatsoever.
  10. It is anchored in an authoritative mentality. This entails a serious social danger: it promotes a tendency to collective insecurity, hidden behind authorities. This is how it works: only if others approve, a work deserves approval. As per objection six, this kills the stimulation for excellent scholars to cultivate their own opinion.
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