This text is the extended version of the introduction for the first stage of the European Symposium of Social Science & Humanities Journals that took place on the 22d November 2021, in Brussels. It was written by the organizing team of this event— Clément Dessy, Karim Fertikh, Wenceslas Lizé and Séverine Sofio, from the journal Biens symboliques/Symbolic Goods. The European Symposium of Social Science and Humanities Journals aims to bring together all the persons interested in the life of academic journals and provid a forum to discuss the current challenges that SSH journals face today.
Why this Symposium?
A few years ago, as founders of a new journal, whose utility or legitimacy was often questioned at the beginning, we used to feel very alone1. The pressure of decision-making was particularly heavy to bear, since we felt that the consequences for every decision—whatever their scale—were critical: will English be our only language of publication or not? Do we translate the articles in other languages and if yes, how do we pay for that? Do we choose a commercial or a non-commercial model? Open access or not? Do we practice single—or double—blind reviews? internal or external reviewers? What is a CMS and what will be the best one for us? Is OJS adapted to our needs? Is it even useful to use an application to manage the workflow of our journal? Which typographic models do we prefer? What is an index and how can our journal be referenced on one? etc. etc.
The opportunities to talk about these things to colleagues working for other journals were indeed quite rare, and often serendipitous: the topic could be addressed for few minutes during the coffee break of a seminar, or during an impromptu conversation in the university halls. Nothing official. Nothing collective. There was no space, either real or digital, where we could discuss with colleagues of other journals about reviewing methods, technical questions, about publishers and hosting platforms, about budgets and organizational choices, about things to do and things to avoid at all costs.
And yet… SSH research is globalized, as are the challenges of Open Science, international rankings and academic publishing. And journals, which are more numerous by the day, are at the very heart of these great evolutions. Therefore, the coherence of creating an international forum for journals is self-evident. Even if there remain national specificities depending on local institutional contexts, the reality is that our journals are most of the time confronted to the same questions and challenges, and even to the same companies. Nowadays, as our experience showed us, when we consider governance, technical models or funding opportunities, a small open-access independent journal may actually have more in common with a small open-access independent journal of another country, than with a big commercial journal two doors down the hall. However, for a lot of (editorial, organizational, ethical…) issues, most of the journals are on common grounds, whatever their nationality, language, discipline or economic model.
This Symposium is the opportunity to tackle several of the most important issues that SSH journals are confronted with. Each of these issues has first been addressed and discussed by renowned specialists in a series of keynote conference held in Brussels on November 22nd/23rd 2021. Of course, those topics have not been chosen at random: they have been strongly inspired by our experience as editorial board members of our journal BSSG, which offered us, in 6 years, a rather intensive training in the fascinating world of scientific publication, with its incredible moments of scientific exchange and cooperation, but also with its difficulties and its constraints.
As keynote speakers, Gisèle Sapiro introduces us to the theme of the practice of translation in SSH journals. Joachim Schöpfel presented a functional approach of Open Access for academic journals. Vanessa Proudman focused on a more equitable journal publishing system.
Carli Coetzee addressed journal work and the ethical labour of non-reproduction. Björn Hammarfelt proposed an overview of the (inter)disciplinary landscapes of publishing and evaluation in SSH. And, last but not least, Delfim Leao emphasized the pending issues and challenges of multilingualism in SSH journals.
Finally, we were lucky enough that two experts in the domain of scientific publishing—namely Sandra Guigonis and Pierre Mounier—have accepted to share their thoughts on all these crucial topics, to help us conclude the first stage of the Symposium and launch the second one.
All of these conferences are available online, on BSSG’s YouTube channel and on our website.
Following these talks, five online roundtables are scheduled every Monday afternoon from the 21 Feb to the 21 March for each of these themes. Five journals from various countries and disciplines have been invited to these roundtables to share their experience and discuss with us the conditions in which a review exists today in Europe (and beyond of course), the specificities of their local context, and the particular responses they have been able to provide to the questions we—as editorial board members, reviewers, editors, translators, or authors—are all facing.
Actually, one of the main challenges that we face today, in SSH publishing, is the great paradox of Open Science.
Open Science is based on positive principles: free access to knowledge, online publishing that allows reading from any connected device, transparency of evaluation, licensing models that allow authors to protect their rights while making their peer-reviewed texts quickly available to everyone… how can we not want these? The expressions themselves—“open science” and “open access”—have everything to appeal to modern and progressive minds. How can any social scientist or any specialist in the humanities wish for a more restricted access, a closed science, intellectuals talking to intellectuals, locked in their ivory tower? Besides, the idea of free access to articles appears by definition opposed to the interests of private publishers and commercial platforms.
Is Open Science the future of SSH journals? Certainly. But when (as it is the case in France) Open Science becomes a reason for the State to give more money to wealthy private publishers to incite them to reduce the embargoes on the articles written on State-sponsored research, while so many non-commercial open-access journals struggle to get the money necessary to their very survival… Isn’t there a problem somewhere?
When Open Science becomes a non-negotiable priority and a criterion of evaluation for EU-funded research for example, to the point that every article produced can be published on EU-funded platforms, where open peer-review is the rule, is it not a very official way to declare the model of peer-reviewed SSH journals obsolete? Will academic journals still have a reason to exist when open peer-review and the acceleration of publication are the rules, or where an editorial policy is deemed an “editorial bias”?
In other words, can “Open” become a problem?
Of course, we are absolutely convinced that the principles of Open Science are good, and we try to apply them to the open-access journal that we run and to our daily practices as modern and progressive social scientists. But we also think that we—SSH journals, whether Open Access or not, whether commercial or not, whether State-funded or not—have to address these questions.
Similar debates and paradoxes could be examined for each of the topics that we have chosen for this Symposium: what do journals translate, and where? Which papers actually circulate and which don’t? Is real interdisciplinarity possible in SSH journals or is it some kind of academic legend? What about the transparency of the editorial board’s practices? Are we all clear with what ethical publication means? Can we imagine an academic world where a non-native English speaker could still publish scientific papers in one’s own language in prestigious international journals?
At the end of the Symposium, we would very much like to know a little more about the situation of scientific publishing in Europe and beyond, about the situation of colleagues who run SSH journals, about their local contexts and challenges, about the inspiring choices that some have made, and about the new possibilities that could be offered by the constitution of a network of cooperation and solidarity between SSH journals all over Europe.
For the past few months, we have been trying not to think too much about how unrealistic (or arrogant, perhaps?) this ambition might be, to bring together journals from all disciplines and all nationalities, to share experiences and discuss the present challenges of our activity in its various aspects. But well here we are, because we have to start somewhere. We hope that this Symposium will be inclusive and useful, that everyone will feel welcome and free to ask questions and participate in discussions. You’ll have to forgive us for the imperfections of the organization, the somewhat DIY aspect of the event, or the fact that it is perhaps a little too focused on the French—and English—speaking world… but we actually hope that this first symposium will be followed by many others, probably better organized and more open.
We hope that the European Symposium of SSH Journals will become a regular meeting place for journals to get together and exchange—like a sort of Eurovision of academic journals (but minus the contest, because we are already subject to enough competition, aren’t we?).
- the journal in question is BSSG, an open-access social science journal specialized on art, culture and ideas, whose first issue was published in English and in French in 2017