The notion of ‘publish or perish’ has become something of a cliché. But its reality is starkly confirmed by the sheer quantity of scholarly literature produced each year, with an estimated 28,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals publishing around 1.8-1.9 million articles in 2012. How much of this literature is written as a contribution to knowledge and how much of it is written to be counted? How many of these papers provoke serious engagement and how many are largely forgotten? After all, it’s estimated that 82% of papers in the humanities are never cited, 27% in the natural sciences and 32% in the social sciences.
Does keeping up with the literature remain feasible when so much is being produced? Graham Scambler suggests we are seeing a ‘compression of the past’ in which many Sociology papers increasingly make reference to “a handful of ‘reified’ classics from the past century and a flowering profusion of twenty-first century offerings”. His point is that when we have access to a “a bewildering and heterogeneous assembly of up-to-date sources” we tend to combine uncontentious canonical sources with “what we have most recently digested”. He argues that great bodies of work are lost under these conditions, contributing to a situation thatStephen Mugford describes as the eternal sunshine of the spotless sociologist: long studied topics and well developed approaches are ‘invented’ afresh, without reference to the originals, such that endless reiteration and forgetting replaces cumulative intellectual progress
This special section of The Sociological Review’s website seeks short blog posts reflecting on the challenge for scholarship under conditions of abundance. This might include topics such as the following:
- Is it becoming more difficult to keep up with the literature within any given field?
- What role does specialisation play in the explosion of scholarly publishing?
- Do our reading practices need to change under these conditions?
- Is the proliferation of journal articles simply a distraction? Do we need a renewed focus on quality rather than quantity?
- How do the demands of career progression contribute to the proliferation of journal articles?
- Should we place more value on review articles because of their capacity to systematise and condense sprawling literatures?
- Do we need new practices of reflection to consolidate what has been established within a field? Could social media help to this end?
Please contact Mark Carrigan with submissions or any questions relating to the special section: firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for contributions is March 31st 2016.