Brown and Cook (2013) have written a timely article that will alert many readers to the negative aspects of unscrupulous publishing. It also underlines a shared commitment to professional standards of scholarship in the academic community. However, the impression left by the article is that more needs to be said on the subject. The publishing companies in question are said to be “unscrupulous” and “predatory” (Beall, 2012), with publications that will lower standards of research in the academic community. Scholars who refer to articles published with these journals will be rejected by interview panels, denied work, and rightly so. Perhaps it even follows that we should condemn any individual scholar who resorts to unscrupulous publishers. Instead of condemnation, however, academic communities might be better served by debating some of the serious issues that have been raised in the article. A mature debate would allow scholars with expertise in relevant fields to shed some light on a host of pertinent questions.
A level playing field?
Why does a large demand for publication venues exist and where does the demand come from? If we look at EFL/ESL academia on a global scale, can we speak of a level playing field? Research articles from particular geographic regions are under-represented in high-status journals (which themselves require relatively large sums of money to be accessed, money which is not available to many educational institutions in some parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere). Speech communities in these regions may have varieties of English or patterns of written composition that seem incongruous by the standards of “center”, rather than “periphery” speech communities (Phillipson, 2009). Does it follow that such article submissions cannot report on valuable issues or explore helpful themes? Even within these same “inner circle” locales, we can point to significant inequalities in institutions of language education, a two-tier system composed of those who produce theory and those who are to consume it (Pennycook, 2001). The former are typically male, middle-class, married (legally), urban, fully-able, tenured university employees with access to a wide range of old boy professional networks plus material and symbolic resources that facilitate multiple publications. This contrasts with the actual conditions of the latter, ordinary language teachers in university and college classrooms, the grassroots of the EFL/ESL habitat.
We should also consider the criteria used by university hiring panels, which often fail to reflect principles of equality (Hayes, 2012). Are these panels reinforcing another two-tier system, favoring high-status publications (international journals that are expensive to purchase or to access online) over low-status publications which do not help candidates gain an interview, even if one interview might be all they need to show their suitability for the post? Couldn’t an interview panel judge an applicant’s published articles on their own merits, without pre-judging publication venues? That would make life more demanding for interview panels, but it might also help them find the best person for the position much more often. This could promote conditions of higher-quality scholarship, pedagogy, and justice in EFL/ESL academia worldwide.
TLT, as well as publishing Brown and Cook’s article, published job advice (Miller, 2013), underlining the critical need to publish or perish if one is to gain job positions with financial and temporal security. Isn’t there something of a contradiction here?
One of the merits of the Grassroots Outreach column is that it can show awareness of the actual life conditions of educators and the inequalities they experience. It would be lamentable if no further debate followed the Brown and Cook article. Yes, academic standards in publications are extremely important and need to be maintained. It is also possible, as Beall (2012, p. 179) argues, that opportunistic publishing will “corrupt the open access movement.” But it is also true that institutionalized biases such as racism, sexism, language imperialism, class elitism, and homophobia (Ó’Móchain, 2010) have been corrupting academia and language education for decades, if not centuries. This type of corruption deserves more attention than is currently the case. Let us first ask why large numbers of aspiring academics are seeking publication with unscrupulous publishers. What does this tell us about changes that need to be made, not only in the actual life conditions of part-time teaching staff, but also in the criteria that are being used to hold-back scholars who seek deserved advancement in their careers?
Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature, 489, 179.
Brown, H., & Cook, M. (2013). Unscrupulous journal solicitations: What they are, what they do, and how you can protect yourself. The Language Teacher, 37(3), 48-50.
Hayes, B. E. (2012). Institutional change in gendered recruitment patterns in Japanese academia: Tempered radical or subversive? GALE Journal, 5, 5-22.
Miller, R. (2013). Publishing options to enhance your CV. The Language Teacher, 37(3), 72-73.
Ó’Móchain, R. (2010). Challenging masculinism: Narratives from within education in Japan. Berlin: Lambert Academic Publishing.
Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Phillipson, R. (2009). Linguistic imperialism continued. Hyderabad, India: Orient Blackswan Private.