commentary on social problems (the journal)

I recently reviewed a paper for Social Problems. The decision letter noted that they accept 8% of papers. That is roughly in the ball park of ASR, AJS and other journals. On the Facebook page, I asked if Social Problems is so competitive, then why doesn’t it get the same profile or respect as ASR/AJS in the sociology job market/promotion system? Some answers make sense. For example, there could be self-selection and people send stronger papers to the association’s journals. Another issue is that Social Problems simply accepts different types of papers. For example, Social Problems does not publish “pure theory” as would be found in AJS or Sociological Theory and it rarely publishes methods papers, which can be big citation generators.

Still, it seems like there is quite a bit of overlap between Social Problems and AJS/ASR/SF. See for your self. Can you identify which papers are Social Problems from the following list?*

  • Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse
  • Is Love (Color) Blind? The Economy of Race among Gay and Straight Daters
  • The Best Laid Plans: Social Capital in the Development of Girls’ Educational and Occupational Plans
  • Work-Family Context and the Longevity Disadvantage of US Women
  • Executive Compensation, Fat Cats, and Best Athletes
  • The Dynamics of Opportunity and Insurgent Practice: How Black Anti-colonialists Compelled Truman to Advocate Civil Rights
  • Emergent Ghettos: Black Neighborhoods in New York and Chicago, 1880–1940
  • The Paradox of Legitimacy: Resilience, Successes, and the Multiple Identities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey

My point isn’t to say that all journals are publishing the same stuff, but even a casual perusal of the journals suggests a lot of overlap. I think self-selection and the prestige orders creates different pools that lead to actual differences in quality. My point is more modest: the difference between AJS/ASR and other journals is probably exaggerated. I’d like to see sociology move to a system of top 4 journals (or more), like most other disciplines.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

* Answers: SP, SF, SP, SF, ASR, ASR, AJS, SP.


Written by fabiorojas

May 19, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, fabio, sociology

17 Responses

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  1. A top 4 system of prestige would benefit everyone. Hear, hear.



    May 19, 2015 at 1:18 am

  2. Titles don’t carry much information about the scope and quality of a paper. If you were to post 10 abstracts from papers, I’d guess that accuracy in differentiating the Social Problems papers from the AJS or ASR papers would go way up.

    I don’t think we even have a three-journal top tier, if we ever did. Arne Kalleberg has done a great job with Social Forces and publishes some excellent papers, but SF’s reputation took a hit in the Judith Blau years from which it hasn’t fully recovered. I also suspect that a much higher proportion of SF papers were rejected from ASR or AJS before being sent to SF than the reverse, in part because ASR and AJS are the gatekeepers in the elite R1 labor market.



    May 19, 2015 at 11:39 am

  3. Can you elaborate on what happened to SF under Judith Blau? I am not familiar with the story, and I wonder if a tale of decline can also shed light on how some journals ascend as well.



    May 19, 2015 at 2:10 pm

  4. @krippendorf: You’re absolutely right that much of what’s in SF (and perhaps SP) started as ASR/AJS submissions. But rejection there doesn’t necessarily imply lower quality/scope. We can all think of ASR/AJS articles that are unremarkable, and SF/SP papers that are. So I imagine there’s some overlap between the two sets, where certain papers could (under different editors, random chance of reviewers, round of revision, etc.) have been in either.

    Expanding the list of top journals, just by a bit, would help graduate students, would reduce reliance on the taste of two editorial teams, allow search committees to convince their departments to widen the pool rather than chase a few superstars, help APs get through P&T committees & deans/provosts, etc. I don’t see a downside.



    May 19, 2015 at 2:27 pm

  5. I’m very curious to see the breakdown of qualitative vs. quantitative articles in SP. My vague impression is that it is friendly towards qualitative work, including case studies. Social Forces, on the other hand, rarely publishes qualitative work. How can a journal be considered tops in the discipline if it is so biased against particular methods?



    May 19, 2015 at 2:46 pm

  6. @cwalken. Unless you are willing to argue that the review process at ASR/AJS is completely random with respect to quality or scope, it must be the case that on average, papers that get rejected from ASR/AJS and find their way to some other journal are lower in quality/scope than the papers that get accepted at ASR/AJS. Yes, of course some good papers get rejected and some bad papers get in to AJS/ASR (like any other journal), but this does not imply a completely stochastic process.



    May 19, 2015 at 3:22 pm

  7. I didn’t say it was entirely random. Certainly, the higher you go in prestige the higher the average quality is (true across all sorts of prestige hierarchies). This would be true if we had only one top journal, too.

    The question is whether the degree of difference in average quality supports the notion that there’s only two top journals. And if this degree outweighs the negative effects of having only two journals the whole discipline cares about.



    May 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm

  8. Isn’t the measure of “room at the top” (# top journals)/(# people in the discipline)? Could be that we have a roomier top even with fewer top journals, because we have fewer heads than a lot of disciplines.


    Graham Peterson

    May 19, 2015 at 4:17 pm

  9. @cwalken hits it on the nail. Few people would dispute that there is a difference in quality. The point is that our discipline exaggerates when a lot of evidence suggests that there is a lot of overlap in topic and quality.

    @GP: Yes, I have often thought about this. Omar wrote an old post about this. If this were true in smaller social science disciplines (anthro, linguistics), I’d chalk it up to structural factors.



    May 19, 2015 at 5:03 pm

  10. PS. If you hypothesis is that SP focuses on different topics, then journal article titles are very informative. Except for methods papers, SP has been converging with other journals in terms of style and substance.



    May 19, 2015 at 5:04 pm

  11. re: Social Forces. A few years ago, Judith Blau became editor at SF. Her approach was to encourage shorter articles and accept more of them. She also tried to discourage fields that some people thought were treating SF as dumping grounds (i.e., ASR can only take so many polished health and ed papers, so a lot of them appeared in SF). I’m a beneficiary of Blau era Social Forces, so I am biased. But SF still seems to retain its place as the next general journal after ASR/AJS.



    May 19, 2015 at 5:08 pm

  12. if you look at journal impact factor (yes, it isn’t the best way to measure this) which is some way a better measurement that basing it on our own biases and perceptions, SP is 1.36 and SF is 1.095. SF has been free-falling for a while. If you look at the entire list, TSQ and JMF beat both SP and SF. I think we need to rethink top journals beyond SF, and even SP. But I do agree that SP has been improving substantially.



    May 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm

  13. Funny, my take on Blau’s editorship (2004-2005 — does that still count as “a few years ago?”) is quite different. She increased the number of articles accepted at Social Forces by adding a section for “public sociologies,” meaning papers that had an explicit (leftie) social or political activist agenda. This was quite contentious at the time.

    Maybe Blau encouraged shorter articles, too, per Fabio. If so, it means she must have dramatically increased the number of articles accepted, with some nontrivial impact on acceptance rates. I never bothered to count articles, but hard copy issues of SF from the Blau years were nearly twice as thick as issues from the pre-Blau or the post-Blau years.

    “Rejection at ASR/AJS doesn’t necessarily imply lower quality/scope.” Yes, it does, on average. That’s all I’m saying.



    May 19, 2015 at 7:02 pm

  14. ‘ “Rejection at ASR/AJS doesn’t necessarily imply lower quality/scope.” Yes, it does, on average. That’s all I’m saying.” ‘

    1. The claim about scope doesn’t follow at all, unless you think scope and quality are highly correlated. If the AJS decided to accept a bunch of population ecology papers (as it did in the 1990s) and decrease other types of papers, it might have high quality but lower scope.

    2. The point of the thread, and almost all commenters, is about the *size* of the quality difference, the variance in quality, and how the profession perceives the size and variance. It may indeed be the case that in some objective sense that SP and SF publish lots of low quality junky papers compared to AJS/ASR. It is also possible that SF/SP papers are only modestly less good. The profession acts as if the first is true, while I would argue that there is evidence that the second might be true.



    May 19, 2015 at 7:26 pm

  15. “On average” and “not necessarily” aren’t contradictory positions. As I stated above, both are likely true. Fabio explains this well in item 2 above.



    May 19, 2015 at 9:29 pm

  16. I wonder how much SP’s traditional focus on applied questions leads to its lower prestige since traditionally our discipline (and others) values applied concepts less than more theoretical ones.

    Liked by 1 person


    May 20, 2015 at 7:56 pm

  17. @ellenberrey has an interesting point. I once counted qualitative papers in a couple of years of SP and TSQ and they were both friendlier to those methods than AJS, which is frendlier to them than ASR (see Gabriel Abend’s ST paper for data about this). I believe ASR also publishes more qualitative work than SF. So having SP at the top would increase the possiblities of having high-ranked articles for qualitative researchers, who have less chances of getting a paper accepted at ASR or SF. I am baised, but I think this would be good for the discipline. But beyond my bias, I think it would particularly help young qualitative sociologists, because a getting a SP article is faster than getting a book out.



    May 21, 2015 at 10:39 pm

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