sociological science and qualitative sociology
So I should start this post by first saying that I’m thrilled that Sociological Science exists. It is terrific that a group of folks did the hard work — and I imagine it’s been a lot — of putting together a high quality, open access journal that sidesteps the protracted review process we all love to hate, that evaluates quality rather than importance, and that values replication as a scientific contribution. I’ve been impressed by the caliber of the articles and love that they’re getting covered in places like Salon and Daily Kos.
In fact, it’s only because Soc Science has clearly been successful, and I think will become even more so in the future, that this is even worth bringing up: What does it mean for qualitative sociology?
Although the editorial board of Soc Science leans heavily quantitative, the journal explicitly states that it “does not privilege any particular theoretical or methodological approach.” And it has indeed published a qualitative article, the interview-based “So You Think You Can Dance? Lessons from the U.S. Private Equity Bubble,” by Catherine Turco and Ezra Zuckerman. But that’s one of 27 articles published to date. (Apologies if I’m missing any.)
There are reasons one might expect to see less qualitative work in Soc Science. Some might be dissuaded from submitting by the journal’s positivist orientation. Probably more significantly, the fee structure, which makes open access possible, is a barrier for work that is not grant-funded, or backed by a wealthy institution — it costs $330 to $630 to publish an 11,000-word article, depending on one’s academic status — which disproportionately impacts qualitative research.
But I’m also concerned that it’s a self-reinforcing phenomenon. The journal might genuinely be intended to be methodologically open, but people see that there’s not much qualitative work. So qualitative sociologists don’t submit. A year goes by. The journal becomes, de facto, entirely quantitative, even if that was not the original aim.
If Soc Science was a niche journal, this wouldn’t matter much. Some journals are basically quantitative, others are qualititative, life goes on. But if it aspires to be a real competitor to AJS and ASR — and I think it does — this has different implications.
The question is, what are they. I can imagine two outcomes for qualitative sociology if Soc Science becomes a serious third major journal.
One is exclusion. Soc Science becomes, for all intents and purposes, quantitative, meaning that one of three major outlets is closed to qualitative research.
The other is narrowing. Soc Science continues to publish qualitative work, but only that framed in very quantitative-model terms. Which wouldn’t be so different from ASR, but would make two of three top journals that way, rather than one of two.
Maybe the current composition of the journal is all about who is submitting and not editorial intent. I mean, I haven’t submitted a paper. But even if it is the result of self-selection, it’s still worth thinking through the implications. After all, if there’s one thing sociologists know, it’s that well-intended decisions have unintended consequences.