The ‘prestige’ of journals in a social media age

  1. reputation or influence arising from success, achievement,rank, or other favorable attributes.
  2. distinction or reputation attaching to a person or thing andthus possessing a cachet

Journals seen as prestigious have a reputation for possessing favourable attributes: they are well managed, have high editorial standards, publish good papers. In fact all these factors are, in practice, related. They’re also seen to be related – perhaps, once might suggest, to an extent which outstrips the reality. Great faith has been placed in their capacity to filter – with high rejection rates, stringent editors, thorough review process and imposing reputations, the readership can be confident that only high quality papers make the grade (with the often implicit corollary that papers not in these journals aren’t high quality).

As a cognitive category, a presupposition which undergirds our evaluative judgements – meant in a way which encompasses this notion – it’s profoundly 20th century. But if you question it too naively, people are likely to construe this as an  attack on academic standards. Why would they leap to this conclusion? Because the conceptual architecture of alternative judgemental practices had not, until recently, emerged: this is where social media comes in.

The notion of ‘prestige’ – with its hierarchical connotations and intrinsic links to bureaucracy – rests on the assumption that filtering, as a social and culture process, relies on fixed elite organisation and, contingently, commercial motives to meet the inherent costs. But that obviously isn’t true anymore. Social media enables an ongoing process of communal filtering which, depending on the dynamics of participation, can be come profoundly refined – for a trivial example, if you use Twitter in an engaged way, just look through your feed and see what percentage of the links posted are things you find interesting. For me it’s often 90% or more. Now imagine the same process, working in an organised way, with the radical difference that there are clearly delineable communities of practice within academia (and, if you see this as a venn diagrams, with specific topics and subdisciplinary areas co-existing within disciplinary and methodological clusters, the notion becomes a very powerful one) which, in principle, means the filtering process can be incredibly powerful.

…. which is what open access online journals, run non-heirarchically as collectives, organised thematically in a way which maximally connects with the values and passions of those involved would be.


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