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Online discussion

Discussion on Michèle Lamont's "How Professors Think"

, October 21, 2011

Online discussion

SESSION 1 START: 21/09/2011 14:26 END: 21/09/2011 16:32

Participants: Yuri Kazepov, Federico Savini, Leonardo Catena, Zhang Hongbo, Komlik Oleg, Maria Agodi

Author: Lamont Michele

Moderator: Torrisi Giovanni

Torrisi Giovanni Welcome to everybody. Let us wait few moments more prof. Lamont to log in. In the meanwhile, please prepare your questions... So that, once Prof. Lamont arrives, you are ready.

Lamont Michele Good morning everybody

Torrisi Giovanni Welcome prof. Lamont.

Komlik Oleg Good morning Professor Lamont

Lamont Michele It is a pleasure to be here and with the help of Yuri I will be able to answer your questions.

Torrisi Giovanni Today we are going to discuss the symposium which has been published on Sociologica. The symposium was titled "Thinking Academic Evaluation" after Michèle Lamont’s "How Professors Think " which is one of the most important and interesting books on the issue.

While the participants prepare their questions, I will begin with one of my own. Prof. Lamont writes about "peer review". I am very interested in understanding how the concept of "peer" is conceptualized. Especially in fringe disciplines such as "legal sociology" or "urban sociology", it is sometime very difficult to find people who are experts (or peers). Sometime are needed specific interdisciplinary competences for evaluation, which are very difficult to acquire. How can the conceptualization of the "peer" operate in these cases? thank you prof. Lamont you have the floor.

Lamont Michele Thanks for your question... Peers are defined by both certification of expertise (articles published in the past), and by labeling. Concretely, program officers define peers by the mere fact of inviting scholars to serve on panel. In the evaluation of manuscripts, as in other evaluative contexts, it is somewhat of an elastic concept, largely performed through a pragmatic matching between available candidates (as defined by their past research) and the object to be evaluated. The matching is harder to optimize in small fields. But both legal and urban studies are not particularly small fields, so I am not sure why this should be a particular issue for them , but for the fact that they are interdisciplinary fields where standards are not highly canonized.@

Komlik Oleg Professor Lamont, first, I would like to tell you that I really enjoyed reading your book; beside the fact that it's just a great and inspiring sociological research, it definitely helped me to understand the world of academia and how it really works. I serve as the chairman of PhD Students' community of the Israeli Sociological Society, and I always recommend every new member to read your book, especially if he or she intends to build an academic career.

I'd like to ask you Professor Lamont about the responses and comments you received regarding your book, from those established and senior professors who sit in various peer-review committees. What were their reactions to your research and your findings? I'm asking this, because occasionally I heard a professor, who said that by revealing the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of the peer-review process and an academic "excellence", your book might send a wrong message to students; to say, what matters is not a research of yours, but relationships you have, and your mentor has with his academic community, as well as the mentor's academic status, interests and agenda. Therefore, this professor concluded, it could be better if the black box of academic evaluating process would never be opened.

I will be grateful to hear your insights about it; especially regarding this co-existential balance between the "social" and the "academic". Thank You!

Lamont Michele Challenging question. Thank you... Responses from senior faculty have been excellent: most people recognize their experience of reviewing in the analysis I provide in my book. Non-sociologists find it interesting to see their taken-for-granted evaluative practices analyzed with the help of our analytical tools. No one has told me that it is dangerous to open the black box. My strategy is not to denounce the process as unfair or illegitimate nor as legitimate. I analyze how reviewers experience it and what they do to make it fair in their own eyes. The argument is not that people learn from the book that mentors can pass on favors. But the impact of networks is there if individuals share the same definition of good work as the evaluators. These definitions are not free floating, but also connected to networks and institutions’ ,including those in which applicants and mentors are involved. @

Question from Savini Federico Welcome prof. Lamont. I would like to build my question upon my personal experience. I am a Phd at the university of Amsterdam, Urban and regional planning (but a social science research department). My dissertation will be composed of 5 articles, published or submitted (and not rejected) in international, peer reviewed, journals. I am concerned about the implication of this style of publishing at early stages of career. Student papers can indeed become a great opportunity (having a portfolio at the end) or a heavy burden, struggling to get into the scientific community before even being a real scientist (and therefore risking to not get any publication after all....). There are many implications. What are the crucial ones according to you of this way of gaining a PhD? what types of researchers we will become? We will become piecemeal publishing as machines, instead of writing 'books'' which allow larger horizons of exploration...?

Komlik Oleg Thank you! Professor Lamont?

Lamont Michele Industrialized researchers? Interesting concept? I think that people learn to be researchers while writing. I develop my ideas about my data as I write. Producing books and articles are often complementary activities. I prefer books myself, but often publish articles with the data of the book as the latter takes form. This allows one to develop conversations with different audiences. What is truly dangerous is the hoop-jumping that takes the form of writing a lot of short articles that are not very different from one another and that don’t amount to much, or that are not distinct from the agenda of one’s mentor. More generally, I believe that trying to game the system is counter-productive and anti-intellectual. That’s my view and the principle by which I train my own students. @

Savini Federico I agree with you....and this is the way I am trained too :) thank .you

Torrisi Giovanni Very good. I see that there is a question by Zhang Hongbo

Question from Zhang Hongbo Good morning, Professor Lamont. I am a master student of European and international studies. I apologize that my question might not be critical and up to the point. I noticed that between business and academia there is a prime mover of interest. A lot of professors (in my country) are both businessmen and academic staff, or even politicians. I wonder if academic and business need to be separated in order to avoid corruption, plagiarism and the low quality of academic production. Can business and academia work together? It has also influenced my motivation in turning my future toward the academia after I am done with my degree. Moreover, you pointed out that "There’s a balance between power and influence? when deciding what students to take, Could you please explain how the balance works? Thank you.

Lamont Michele In some fields business and academic research are inextricably linked: it is the case in engineering school or business schools, where developing patents or working as a business consultant is part of the job. For fundamental disciplines such as sociology, we are entrepreneurs of sort if we spent quite a bit of time putting together large research projects that require considerable funding. But this is very different from being motivated by the profit motive. I don’t think it is a problem for most of the social sciences, but it can become counterproductive if fund-raising does not leave much time for original creative work, i.e. for doing the research itself. After all, that is where the fun is and what motivates most really good academics?. @

Torrisi Giovanni Zhang Hongbo, would you like to reply?

Zhang Hongbo Thank you very much. @

Lamont Michele Any further question? or comment...?

Komlik Oleg Lately I hear more support (on some academic blogs) for open peer-review process of academic papers. More specifically, support for revealing the names of the reviewers or even,to go further and do what could be called a crowd-review. What do think about it? is it feasible? Thank you

Lamont Michele The process is a dynamic one... I believe open reviewing would lead to a decline in number of people willing to review. Reviewing is costly in time. If we risk making enemies on top of it, that’s two deterrents. We have to count on people’s professionalism and train our students to make them understand the responsibility of reviewing as fairly as possible, without pushing one’s own agenda. Moreover, reviewers have to be able to express their views freely, without fear of reappraisal. This is why I feel that open reviewing is a non-starter. @

Komlik Oleg I see. Thank you! @

Question from Savini Federico Other question. There has been a proliferation of international journals. This is often due to the proliferations of academic networks, associations, organizations. However, I see also a tendency to homogenization of the 'ultimate principles' on which these journals and associations are based on. In planning, sustainability, equity, participation, critical policy analysis etc...they are recurrent, and this inevitably seems to generate apparently similar journals often differentiated according to the main department of origin (and editorship). This is good to enlarge the debate. However, some of the most pivotal journals in social sciences have ideological origins, they were based on kinds of manifestos , and they where expressions of strong (sometime normative) lines of taught (Marxism, structuralism i.e.). What are the implications of this trend according to you? Or, do you think that this trend actually doesn't exist?

Lamont Michele Let 100,000 flowers bloom. I believe the more the better. You cannot try to limit the diversity of journals as this would threaten freedom of expression. Lower quality journal, or those that have agendas that are too narrow, will be eliminated with time. I don’t see why one would want to regulate them. But I acknowledge that this may be a neo-liberal take on journal ecology!@

Savini Federico Ranking is a possibility not to regulate but to differentiate I guess however, what criteria for ranking? if it is only 'the most reader = the most influential' it might lead us somewhere strange...

Lamont Michele Do you have the impact factor in mind?

Savini Federico Yes and no: it is a rate on citations on past two years

Torrisi Giovanni The fact that an article is very read (or even very cited) does not mean that is automatically very good.

Savini Federicoit is a rate between 1) the time the article is cited and 2) the amount of citable products but, please, Prof. Lamont, let me know your thoughts about ranking

Lamont Michele It is not difficult to know which are the top journals. In fact in the US the rankings at the top did not have to be formalize: everyone knew what they were. It is more problematic in the middle of the pack where journals may be incommensurate for a number of reasons, and therefore hard to compare. The European obsession with American-style peer review has led a number of countries (e.g. France) to formally decide what were the top journal in economics, sociology, etc. I am not a big fan of this industry, in part because it leads to the consolidation of disciplinary, topic, and paradigm hierarchy. But for young people, it is important to try to publish their work in outlets where their research will acquire visibility. So for this reason, formal ranking of journal has some usefulness. @

Savini Federico But then the scientific debate might look like a crowded room of people talking against, with, over each other.

Lamont Michele It's true... ;-) it actually is.@

Savini Federicoor, conversely, a room where only the old prominent guys talk :)

Torrisi Giovanni Very well....

Lamont Michele Both are possible.

Torrisi Giovannithe discussion is getting interesting.

Lamont Michele Other questions?

 Torrisi Giovanni What about online journals, like sociologica in Italy? Do they get a different "status", being more "social"?

Lamont Michele First my answer to a previous comment... Indeed, the fact that a paper is widely read and cited may not be a signal of quality, as much as of network centrality, which is often constructed as a form of excellence, and certainly of influence.

We need to think of these aspects as clearly distinct, and use our judgment when decide what to assign to our graduate students. We want our students both to be familiar with what is central in the field and with what we believe exemplifies very good research. @now on the multiplication of journals: You cannot stop people from creating journals? there is the marketplace of ideas, which is part of the fun and is exhausting at times.. The web opens new opportunities, such as this exchange. For me the main challenge is to decide what to read, what I absolutely have to read, what I may read if I get a little free time?. It is becoming increasingly difficult to feel like you have a deep understanding of the state of play in one’s discipline? @

 Komlik Oleg Professor Lamont, I heard an opinion that, if you want to increase your chances to get a grant from any US fund, you better include in your research some comparative points that link your case (empirically or theoretically) to the American context. Could we assume that is the right way to act if we want to get research funding from some US fund or US scholarship? Thank you.@

 Lamont Michele Now on Sociologica and online journals in general: I feel like online journals are very useful because they are highly flexible, timely, dynamic, and easily accessible. I learn a lot from Sociologica, or from La vie des idees in France. There are also good sociology blogs in the US. Sometimes they have too much about gossips, and everyone has an opinion about everything. Also some rather junior scholars like to define themselves as trend-setters while they are still wet behind their ears (is that an expression in English??) But in general I find this trend toward electronic publishing dynamic and refreshing, even if web publication simply dont have the same status as print? @Thanks Oleg, you intend to apply?

Komlik Oleg yes (-:

Lamont Michele Unfortunately indeed US sociology remains very US centered. I just read a forthcoming paper to be published in the Revue Francaise de Sociologie based on a content analysis of the papers in ASR. The numbers it reveals are rather appalling.. (a huge number of published articles are about the US only). So yes, connection to the US is very important. However, It is possible to also get funding for non-US based research if one can develop a convincing argument about how a specific case illuminates broader non-place specific phenomena. @

Torrisi Giovanni Thanks prof. Lamont. This is very interesting...meanwhile some other participants joined us.Maria Agodi. Federico, again.

 Question from Savini Federico I personally like very much the fact that internet allows a maximum exchange of thoughts. I fully agree with what prof. lamont said before. I would like to ask you something more particular on the way we can peer review an article. I did this in few occasions. Sometimes I feel like giving suggestions to the author about eventual new concepts, possible key authors and possible models that might be helpful but not necessarily. I am scared that the author might automatically use them, as to get into the journal, to please the reviewer etc....I guess this is not unusual. To what extent and how should peer reviewers use their knowledge to make suggestions (instead of only critiques)?

 Lamont Michele Thanks for your question Federico...

Question from Komlik Oleg Great question, Federico!

 Lamont Michele Reviewers should of course make suggestions for improvement as well as criticism. That’s their role. They help authors fine-tune their argument and develop a stronger contribution to the literature. This often involves recasting/reframing their views of the literature.And one hopes that the author will follow the suggestions. And of course getting the paper published is the goal!!!@

Savini Federico;)

Kazepov Yuri Actually, authors usually respond to a reviewers when they resubmit their article, so there is a dialog. And if the arguments are good, one might reject suggestions ;-)

Lamont Michele Other questions?

Torrisi Giovanni Also because, sometime reviewers write opposite comments. Asking to make completely opposite changes ;-)

Savini Federico

I think that peer-reviewing and publishing sometimes looks like an art craft work we learn from our 'magisters', experts and the tricks (and logics) are only something understandable with doing it for long time

Lamont Micheleit's true.

Savini Federico Opposed to what I said 'industrialized researcher'.....

Lamont Michele It's a learning process. if anybody has further questions, I would like to thank you for your interesting questions....

Torrisi Giovanni Thanks to prof. Lamont for this online meeting and to prof. Kazepov for organizing this very interesting initiative.

Lamont Michele And say good bye. @

Komlik Oleg Professor Lamont, thank you very much for this fruitful and very interesting conversation!

Torrisi Giovanni We have all your emeails, so we will contact you with further initiative. Bye to all.

 Zhang Hongbo Thank you all for having me at the interesting initiative. Bye

Komlik Oleg Indeed- i will be glad to take a part tin the future talks. Goodbye everybody!