Obstacles to Publishing About Class

So, in part, I’m annoyed today because a Big Deal journal just sat on my submission for 14 months before sending me a “revise (a lot) and resubmit”.

If a first generation student on my campus was that late turning in a project – without explanation –there’d be grumbling in the lunch room about how “those kids” just can’t get their acts together.  Tongues would wag.

But in the bigger picture, I’ve been thinking about the challenges of publishing work about class when frankly, there are still a lot of academics who aren’t yet clear about why class matters.

Some of the specific challenges I see:

1. A  dearth of reviewers who are current with how the field is developing.

Thus, reviewers  have sometimes critiqued my papers for not confirming (or even citing) Anyon’s classroom study from 30 years ago — a study of schooling in  very different economic times and in very different ed policy climate.

And on two different conference proposals, reviewers have been dismayed that I’m not citing heavily enough from Bowles and Gintis, a text I read in college in the 70s.

If I hadn’t read much in the  field of math education since 1982, I’d never be asked to be a gatekeeper for current research in that field. But I’m often amazed at how reviewers of my work seem to simultaneously be trying to establish their own credibility by pulling out the “classics” while questioning mine for having moved on.

2. The persistent conflation of race and class in the literature.

I recently  scanned the indices of a  number of popular education texts on critical pedagogy. What do you find when you look up  “social class”?  Discussions about poor urban kid of color.  Over and over.  Read the descriptions  for sessions in the AERA program indexed as “social class”?  Nearly all are cross referenced with “urban education”.

Thus, many reviewers seem not to know how to make sense of work that interrogates class more broadly.  In one recent manuscript, I’d clearly explained that I was writing about how white teachers make sense of their class backgrounds when working with privileged and with working class kids in their suburban schools.  A reviewer wrote that “race is the elephant in the room”.


3.  Limited general understanding of social class, and therefore an expectation that every manuscript start from the ground up.

In a recent article I had stated as background (and cited a number of supporting references) that in the U.S., most people just assume that they’re middle class.   A reviewer would not recommend publication until I explained why that was the case.

Well, that would take pages, wouldn’t it?  And those references that I cite?  They’ve already talked about that question at length.

Reviewers have too often expected me shape my writing to fill their own particular  gaps in knowledge, or to make every manuscript “Social Class 101” .  We’re not yet at a point where we can assume basic background knowledge among reviewers.   See  challenge # 1 above.

4. Dismissing the question.

White reviewers reading submissions on race, and men reviewing submissions on gender know, at some level, that they need to bracket their own experiences into some place off to the side.  They know — because these are the norms of scholarship — that their perspectives are incomplete.

Middle class reviewers of works on poor and working class experiences still sometimes want to dismiss the significance of even asking about class.

5. A “zero sum” mentality.

At nearly every conference presentation on class that take the conversation beyond urban education that I’ve been in (my own presentations and others), someone stands up and makes a speech about how, if we start talking about class, white people will have an excuse to stop talking about  race.    Another version of this is that people talking about class are really arguing that class is more important than race.

As if white people are already talking so much about race.

And as if we can’t have multiple and overlapping conversations.

As if there’s nothing to be learned about race by also talking about intersections with class.


So, before I get more worked up (14 months!)  I’ll add just two more things.

If you’re in a position to review manuscripts on class and education for journals and conferences, be sure that you’ve checked that box on the “professional interests”  forms in which we volunteer for such work.  And if you haven’t volunteered to be a reviewer, please do.

And, I’ll ask: what obstacles are you all seeing to publishing and/or getting access to solid work on class and education in these complicated times?

How can we  forward?

4 thoughts on “Obstacles to Publishing About Class

  1. Tommynomad October 9, 2008 / 9:48 am


    I just discovered your site yesterday: looks very interesting.

    Last weeks at the CLESOL2008 conference on education and identity, there was plenty of talk of race, and some about class, so fear not: it is out there, even if on the other side of the planet. In Canada, there’s these folks: http://www.socialiststudies.ca. When I was an undergrad, I did some editing work for them, and they’re good people and academically among the most rigourous.

    Good luck, and I look forward to reading more!

  2. Allison October 9, 2008 / 10:31 am

    This is a great piece, and reassuring and infuriating at the same time. I, too, have confronted many (all) of these problems when trying to publish papers on class. I once was told that a statement about inequality (we still have it and it’s getting worse) needed supporting evidence. I could add other comments but I try to forget them. When you try to publish qualitative findings on class, it’s even more difficult to find understanding reviewers.

  3. J October 10, 2008 / 12:53 pm

    If you are doing a study on white teachers making sense of their class backgrounds in different types of situations, race is still relevant. It may not be the dominant factor and it may not be about so-called minorities, but whiteness is still a racial component for a white teacher dealing with white students, just the same that race would be a factor for black teachers making sense of their class backgrounds in the classroom. It’s a mistake to assume that race doesn’t matter when all the folks involved are white. That said, I understand your frustration with the way that class issues are often over-racialized. In both respects, there needs to be understandings of how race operates beyond class and how class operates beyond race.

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