In the first part of this essay, I have argued that the space available for innovative and imaginative thinking about international law hinges on the format of our research output. I have particularly shared my feeling that, notwithstanding the current veneration of the field for publications in refereed journals, our most innovative and imaginative pieces of scholarship are likely to be found in book chapters. I have described such phenomenon as a one of self-censorship and explained it through the metaphor of the virtual peer-reviewer which authors subject themselves to when writing a piece destined for a refereed journal. Such self-censorship is arguably witnessed with much less intensity in the writing of book chapters thanks to the personification and collegiality of the quality-control process commonly practiced for edited collections. In the second part of this essay, I am considering three concrete actions that possibly allow us to mitigate the repression by the virtual peer-reviewer while giving more visibility to those platforms that nest our most innovative and imaginative works. On this occasion, it will be argued that facilitating the production of more imaginative and innovative scholarship helps reduce academic waste.
Scavenging the existing wasteland
We should take pains to visit the wasteland of academic overproduction and unearth the old edited collections with a view to extracting the possible gems they contain. This is about giving a second life to those old volumes that have long vanished from our radars and search engines. This concretely means getting out of our offices, going to libraries, grabbing the long forgotten dusty volumes and perusing their table of contents. This also means enabling such volumes’ greater online presence and accessibility. In that regard, we must encourage publishers (and other institutional actors) to facilitate the digitalization of both new and outmoded collections without hiding them behind unaffordable pay walls. And once we have secured access to these volumes, giving them a second chance requires that we actually read their content in order to distinguish between those book chapters that should never have been published in the first place (probably the majority of them!) and those that demonstrate imagination and innovation.
The foregoing does certainly not mean that more of these volumes should be produced. My point is that we should give another chance to the chapters that are already out there in the wasteland of academic overproduction. This would simultaneously help reduce academic waste. In fact, I believe that if we were to make a greater use of the book chapters already published we would end up producing less of them. If they feel their book chapters are taken more seriously, it is likely that international lawyers would no longer feel the pathological calling for a production of chapters at an industrial rate as they could realistically entertain the hope that, someday, somewhere in the wasteland of academic overproduction, someone will pick up some of their thoughts.
It could be objected that the abovementioned call for giving a second chance to book chapters reinforces the current distribution of power in the field while also reinforcing the visibility, influence and positions of those who are in favourable positions, are no longer in need of a tenured job, and are regularly invited to contribute book chapters and edit collections.I think that such an objection is irrefutable. Yet, I continue to believe that, compared to refereed journals, edited collections, thanks to the personification and collegiality of their review process, are platforms that are more accessible to young colleagues and colleagues who are not affiliated with First World’s mainstream institutions. Taking these chapters seriously is also a way to build a more inclusive profession.
Muting the virtual peer-reviewer
We should mute the virtual peer-reviewer that haunts us when writing a piece destined for a refereed law journal. In particular, we should try to write without a destination in mind. We should write to think, think to write, think and write, irrespective of the destination. And maybe we should write with the idea that our piece may never be published and that this would be all right. In the same vein, we should try to create spaces where the virtual peer-reviewer is muted. For instance, I have always dreamed of a great fair of new ideas about international law (salon des inventions) where everyone would come and present innovative and imaginative works to publishers and journal editors. This was the original rationale of posters in academic conferences but this practice never picked up in international legal circles. I think we need to create new spaces (digital or not) patterned after innovation fairs where we can proudly and confidently walk in without self-censoring ourselves and fearing to come across the virtual peer-reviewer.
Ending anonymity of the peer-review process!
If personification and collegiality of review-processes for edited collections are conducive to greater imagination and innovation, there is no reason why they should not be generalized and extended to refereed journals. In this regard, whilst I can see why we want to preserve the anonymity of the author of a piece under review, I am of the opinion that we ought to terminate the anonymity enjoyed by the peer-reviewers which refereed journals resort to. I have two justifications for vindicating such transparency in the peer-review process.
First, although they commonly take their role seriously, provide constructive comments and help refine articles, peer-reviewers inevitably exercise a form of symbolic violence: they speak the language of the right and the wrong, they award marks and judgements, they repudiate arguments, they discontinue emerging or nascent ideas, they even terminate careers and throw authors in depression. However good-intentioned reviewers are, reviewing a draft article is a form of symbolic violence and I cannot see how we can justify it being exercised anonymously. It is said that anonymity is aimed at protecting the peer-reviewers and uphold the quality and robustness of the review. In this regard, I am struggling to see how the transparency of the peer-review process necessarily runs against the quality and robustness of evaluations. I believe that the decency of quality-control processes and the protection of the reviewers from possible retaliation or harm being done to their friendly working relations are better guaranteed by disciplinary ethics rather than procedural anonymity.
Second, I am convinced that generalizing the personification of evaluation processes and ending the anonymity of peer-review processes constitute an efficacious means to curb the amount of academic waste that enters into the wasteland of academic overproduction. In fact, personification of the review-processes circumscribes the virtual peer-reviewer that currently haunts the writing of our pieces destined for refereed journals and, for the reasons discussed in this essay, bolsters risk-taking, audacity, innovation, and imagination. I am convinced that, if we are able to maximize the innovative and imaginative characters of our works irrespective of whether they are destined for an edited collection or a refereed journal, we would have come a long way in limiting the amount of scholarship that is automatically dumped in the wasteland of academic overproduction. At the end of the day, the anonymity of the peer-reviewers and the never-ending production of academic waste are two faces of the same problem.