Rationale and Context
Pandemic, war, and social conflict are speeding changes already under way in humanities and social science fields in the North American and Western European academy. The global nature of these emergencies have led many humanities and social science scholars to become more aware, if they were not before, that our intellectual communities are and always have been bound by ties of interdependence. While many observers of higher education have redoubled their efforts to question even the most fundamental aspects of intellectual life in light of this interdependence, critical scrutiny of the humanities and social science peer review process lags behind.
In the early 2010s, a wave of critical inquiry into peer review showed initial promise. However, an ahistorical focus on the procedure of peer review led observers to overlook consideration of deeper questions about peer review’s role in exacerbating unequal access to resources among global intellectual communities.1 Belying the alarmism of the initial publications, observers generally concluded that while peer review is not perfect it remains the gold standard for assessing academic excellence.
We the Editorial Team of the Journal of Global Catholicism agree that peer review remains an indispensable aspect of academic practice. We also believe that peer review deserves further scrutiny and that the recent debate about its practice was prevented from reaching its full potential.
We believe that the growing awareness of the global context of scholarly practice represents a profound structural change in the scholarly endeavor, one that can lead to generative scrutiny and renewal of the peer review process, including its role in fostering scholarly excellence. The time is right for a reexamination of peer review that goes beyond asking whether it is functioning properly to inquire about its place within current scholarly understandings of culture, history, and tradition as they relate to understandings of power and authority in a global academic system.
Growing awareness of academic disciplines’ global context has left scholars with a healthy skepticism about the kind of cultural, historical, and traditional neutrality that underwrites assertions that peer review provides unbiased information. Political economic analyses of global systems have revealed the hidden costs of even the most seemingly banal and bureaucratic procedures, and the ways these costs are distributed unevenly within and across societies.2 The humanities and social science fields within which the Journal of Global Catholicism operates have benefited from–if not abetted–global hierarchies and systems of unequal and unjust distribution of economic, cultural, and religious resources. Symptoms of these structural injustices include but are not limited to:
- Inequality of access to journals, books, and other publications;
- Normalization of Western European and North American languages–themselves often provincial dialects taught in Western European and North American states’ official educational systems–as the languages of scholarly excellence;
- Equation of anonymity with neutrality;
- Marginalization of indigenous, local, diasporic, and national cultural intellectual traditions in the international academic system;
- The individualization and privatization of publishing costs.
The Editorial Team commits to conduct peer review under the following conditions:
- In making a judgment whether to recommend an article for publication, we will formally exclude the criticism that an author has failed to cite articles, books, or other publications that have appeared only in Western European and North American languages. We may recommend that an author consult such texts in peer review comments, but will not allow the absence of these texts from the author’s article into our deliberations about final publication.
- We will review articles in French, Hungarian, Romanian, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. We commit to reviewing at least a portion of an article in other languages at authors’ request.
- We will identify reviewers who are competent to judge an article based on the contributions it makes to indigenous, local, diasporic, and national cultural traditions of debate and intellectual inquiry. We will request that reviewers take this into account in their assessments.
- We will conduct peer review without charging submission fees or other payments that individualize and privatize the costs of peer review.
- If the editors judge an article to be worthy of distributing for peer review, we will provide professional academic editing in English free of charge prior to circulating the article to peer reviewers.
- We will conduct periodic reviews of our commitments in this Peer Review Statement to ensure that the JGC’s peer review procedures continue to facilitate equality of access and the open exchange of ideas between global intellectual communities.
We believe that the Journal of Global Catholicism–a new venue for an interdisciplinary and global scholarly conversation about Catholicism in all its fraught, power-laden, and contingent entanglements with cultures, histories, and traditions–is well-poised to be a leading voice in a far-reaching conversation about peer review that addresses these fundamental structural conditions of intellectual life.
- 1. Following a provocatively titled publication in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Peer-Review System Is Broken,” numerous humanities and social sciences began documenting the process of peer review and diagnosing its procedural ailments. Among the common problems were too many review requests, too few reviewers, and a problematic culture of leniency that led to too many “revise and resubmit” decisions. The ensuing debate was limited to the questions concerning whether such procedural challenges really obtained in the humanities and interdisciplinary fields. Daniel Myers, “The Peer-Review System Is Broken,” Chronicle of Higher Education 56, no. 2 (2009): B4.
- 2. In the name of open-access publishing, journals shift costs onto individual scholars with little acknowledgement that systemic inequalities already unfairly burden scholars from the two-thirds world in other ways. The increasing practice of requiring authors to pay submission fees or stipulating that, to waive this fee, authors explain in writing why they are unable to afford this payment exacerbates the effects of global economic systems on academic publishing, creates unfair barriers of access to scholars from the two-thirds world, and individualizes and privatizes the costs of peer review.