Publishing the results of one’s research is an integral part of academic work and, not insignificantly, one on which academic careers are particularly dependent: “Publish or perish!” It’s thus imperative that young researchers begin thinking about suitable formats and places of publication right at the very beginning of their careers. And things such as coaching offerings on this theme for doctoral students show how much even they already have to think long and hard about these questions. October 2018, for example, witnessed a workshop entitled “Kanäle des Publizierens –
Wie entwickle ich eine Publikationstrategie?” [Publishing Channels – How Do I Develop a Publication Strategy?] offered by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. And the mdw, for its part, offers regular courses on the topic—such as a workshop scheduled for May 2019 and entitled “Writing Publishable Articles”, the stated objective of which is to convey “how to write English papers that are […] polished for publication in international journals.”¹
In the humanities and especially in cultural studies disciplines, however, the selection of a preferred place and format of publication is not simply determined by content-related criteria; it’s also become increasingly dominated by career strategy considerations that frequently confront early-career researchers with a dilemma: while publishing doctoral dissertations (and habilitation theses) as monographs continues to be highly regarded within these disciplines and is essential to launching one’s academic career or successfully navigating an appointments process, third-party research funding is for the most part awarded solely on the basis of work presented in peer-reviewed publications.
In its current funding application guidelines2, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) mentions peer review as a significant criterion for assessing an applicant’s publishing record and initiating the application review process. In doing so, these guidelines fail to account for the diversity exhibited by the forms of publication typical of humanities and cultural studies disciplines, a diversity that is owed to their historical development as well as to differing research topics and the different types of knowledge being sought. The central publishing formats here are for the most part monographs, source editions, and work editions. The FWF’s funding application guidelines effectively devalue these central publishing formats. The fact is, however, that peer-reviewed journals are not the most relevant media of publication in all disciplines; it’s often the case that the journals that are central to the discourse of a given field employ other quality-assurance measures. And since the quality assurance standards called for by the FWF fail to reflect the established practices in numerous humanities and cultural studies disciplines, researchers from these disciplines are having an increasingly difficult time even being allowed to apply for funding. What’s more, this leads to the FWF’s on-recognition of important criteria of innovation and quality assurance in the humanities and cultural studies, despite the fact that its Corporate Policy lists the equal treatment of all disciplines as one of its values.3
The FWF’s guidelines were the reason behind an interdisciplinary working conference on the theme of quality assurance in humanities and cultural studies publications at the mdw that was held at the initiative of the Austrian Society for Musicology’s Executive Board in June 2018. This event, headed by Melanie Unseld, met with great interest, and the outcomes of its discussions were recorded in a working paper. A central concern was to strengthen “awareness of the diversity of quality-assured publications” and push for changes to the FWF’s guidelines that would do justice to the “diversity, intrinsic value, and assured quality of humanities and cultural studies publications and the methods and forms of portrayal they involve”4. There was also discussion of possible ways in which existing quality assurance processes could be rendered transparent and of just how quality assurance criteria appropriate to humanities and cultural studies disciplines could be specified. The participants were unanimous in their opinion that the various quality assurance processes involving redundant supervision and multiple levels should—insofar as these are transparent—be considered equivalent to peer review. For the relevant publication formats of the monograph and source and/or work editions, as well as for collected volumes, catalogues, and handbooks, quality assurance takes place via measures such as evaluations, editorial boards, editors who are responsible for content, and the external evaluation of (research) grants.
On the basis of the demands formulated in this working paper, a delegation comprising three representatives of various disciplines (Markus Ender / University of Innsbruck, Johann Pock / University of Vienna, Melanie Unseld / mdw) subsequently entered into a conversation with the FWF’s Executive Board, represented by its president Klement Tockner and its vice-president Gerlinde Mautner. The concerns that exist in the humanities and cultural studies disciplines met with interest on the part of the FWF, and November 2018 saw these concerns focused on in discussions within the FWF itself. The willingness to engage in discussion thus signalled makes clear that the FWF recognises this topic’s relevance.
Further discussion within the FWF is now being devoted to corresponding changes to its application guidelines, which have been projected for 2020. So it just might be the case that, from that point onward, today’s doctoral candidates and young researchers in humanities and cultural studies disciplines will be able to reorient their publication strategies—and hopefully no longer need to prioritise their academic careers or the acquisition of research funding when choosing publication formats.
1 From the announcement text for the course “Writing Publishable Articles”, 20–22 May 2019, https://www.mdw.ac.at/zfw/kurse/?kursid=1118&kurs_f=240 (last accessed on: 22 Jan. 2019).
2 “Application Guidelines for Stand-Alone Projects” of the FWF (as of 1 January 2019), https://www.fwf.ac.at/fileadmin/files/Dokumente/Antragstellung/Einzelprojekte/p_application-guidelines.pdf (last accessed on: 14 Jan. 2019).
3 “FWF Austrian Science Fund. The FWF’s Corporate Policy”, https://www.fwf.ac.at/en/about-the-fwf/corporate-policy (last accessed on: 14 Jan. 2019).
4 Working paper of the interdisciplinary working conference “Qualitätssicherung in geistes-/kulturwissenschaftlichen Publikationen“, Vienna, 28 June 2018 (original emphasis).