Part technical skill, part judgemental practice, editing a journal is one of the most rewarding roles an academic can fulfil. We’ve been fortunate to have been at the editorial helm of the BSA/SAGE journal, Cultural Sociology, from our University of Edinburgh base since 2016 and as we reach the end of our tenure, we see this as an opportunity to look back, to reflect on the importance of editing, and to offer our gratitude and thanks.
The journal itself is an intellectually vibrant, well-regarded and generously-supported journal, which has accumulated a rich corpus since its foundation by David Inglis in 2007. Spanning the expansive domain of cultural sociology, the journal has become a key locale for scholars working in and around the society-culture interface. The term “cultural sociology” was preferred by David to that of “sociology of culture” to capture the emphasis on culture both as object for sociological analysis and as analytical frame through which to explore and extend the remit of orthodox sociological approaches to cultural phenomena. The journal provides a scholarly forum that is open to and actively encouraging of scholars situated within a wide range of geographical locations and intellectual positions. Arising out of these contexts and positions are a correspondingly diverse range of understandings of how sociology should approach cultural phenomena and how cultural phenomena shape orthodox sociological objects and modes of seeing. The journal continues to represent that diversity in its content. Hence, alongside perennial debates on cultural omnivores, cultural inequalities and the materiality of culture, we have been delighted to see new topics, cases and ways of seeing culture emerge in almost every journal issue during our tenure. That is testament not just to the variegated nature of the discipline of sociology as a whole, but to the expansion of culture as a vital force in shaping economies, societies, polities and lives.
What does the editorial role entail? No two days of editing the journal are the same: duties range from responding to prospective authors, reading incoming submissions, and finding suitable reviewers for articles, to proofreading papers in advance of production, attending editorial meetings and promoting the journal at conferences. It can be taxing and time consuming, but that’s more than offset by the thrill of working at the leading edge of the field, being exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking, as well as working closely with colleagues for a common purpose. Editors are not merely functionaries of the publishing industry, they are disciplinary stewards and (to deploy terminologies deriving from Bourdieu who has a strong presence in the journal), interested cultural agents who help to shape the intellectual field and its trajectories. Editing practices are also part of the glue that holds the academic field together in the form of the double-blind peer-review system – itself essential to the maintenance of scientific credibility and autonomy. We’ve felt this responsibility particularly keenly at a time when the academy is stretched and debates about free labour, the commodification of Higher Education and the practices of the commercial publishing industry are reaching a critical point.
Whilst at Edinburgh, the journal has seen some significant developments: we introduced what we called “regional spotlights” that shone a light on the cultural sociology of Russia (2017), France (2018), China (2019) and Brazil (2020) and the commissioning of a further piece on Czech cultural sociology. This was part of a broader strategy of internationalisation designed to reach out to some of the less visible, but nonetheless important, national and regional circuits of activity in cultural sociology. We also expanded our international advisory board and (pre Covid-19 at least), promoted the journal at the major conferences of the British Sociological Association, the American Sociological Association, the European Sociological Association, and the Latin American Studies Association at events in the UK, USA, and Europe. A particularly rewarding part of our role has been supporting new career scholars in the process of getting published, sometimes for the first time.
Like all forms of culture, editing is a collaborative and collective endeavour, reliant on the joint efforts of many people, and we’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to work alongside some inspiring colleagues. The editorial team itself has changed a little over the years, with the journal benefitting enormously from the creativity, passion and diligence of Isabelle Darmon (2016-2018) and Lisa McCormick (2016-2020) during their years as editors on the team. We have been lucky to have been more than ably assisted by a professional team of support personnel, including Alison Danforth and Sophie Belfield at BSA and the publication staff at SAGE, notably Miriam Hodge, Janet DeFreitas and Sweety Singh, the SAGE journal assistant. Our collective thanks also go to our hard-working editorial board who have served the journal so well during our tenure, and to the scholars that write and review for the journal and who have kept their commitments in spite of the extra work and uncertainty caused by the pandemic
Most recently, we’ve been excited to welcome a new (though not entirely new to the journal) editor on board, Chris Thorpe and Chris offers some reflections on his role below:
Other than the fact that the start of the new term was looming and sure to be very different from anything any of us had experienced before, September was shaping up to be a month defined by unusually high levels of trepidation. So when I was asked by Professor Nick Prior and Dr M. Angélica Thumala Olave, if I would be willing to return to Cultural Sociology, this time in the capacity of co-editor, my trepidation about the pending term quickly gave way to a genuine sense of excitement and exhilaration. Having already been associate editor to the journal from 2010 through to 2013, the experience I had accumulated during that time meant that I was able to hit the ground running.
Journal work, and it is work, is demanding. It demands that extra time and effort be squeezed out from the already heavy workload incurred by the ‘day job’; but it is incredibly rewarding too. It has been an absolute pleasure to be involved once again in the daily running of Cultural Sociology. The nature of the work is invariably varied and always stimulating. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know, work alongside, and learn from Nick and Angélica, scholars who are passionate about matters cultural, and the disciplinary debates and disputation surrounding them. Similarly, it has been a pleasure to get to know the supporting cast of BSA personnel who work so hard behind the scenes to coordinate and promote the public-face of the journal, no less the rich round of procedural and administrative tasks underpinning its operation.
Finally, then, as we step down as editors, we’re genuinely excited to see where the journal will be heading next and hopefully to see it go from strength to strength. Editing a journal is one of the few opportunities scholars have to set disciplinary agendas running, not through one’s own published work, but through acts of selection, curation and commissioning, such as with the publication of special issues and the sponsorship of conferences and conference streams. Baked into the job is exposure to the intellectual currents, trends and perspectives that are fermenting and fomenting in the discipline and the sheer joy of seeing a paper through from start to finish is its own reward – even more so if that paper happens to win the journal’s coveted SAGE Prize for Excellence and Innovation! It’s a position that is multi-faceted, demanding various skills and meeting many challenges, but it is ultimately a unique and satisfying role and we feel privileged, honoured and grateful for the opportunity to have steered the journal during this period.