Should These Published Works Perish?

The “publish or perish” imperative is a hallmark of academic life in the United States. If you want to become a tenured professor, you must conduct research and get it published.

Not just any publication counts. Tenure is built upon articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and books published by reputable academic publishers.

Players in the publish-or-perish game must come up with original contributions to knowledge, but since generations of previous scholars have mined out the easy ore in their fields, raw materials are increasingly hard to find. Thus, many of today’s faculty investigate extremely narrow and trivial niches. Their work may add to knowledge, but often that knowledge is of interest to only a few other scholars.

Would anyone voluntarily pay for all the professors’ time that went into these books, as well as the significant cost of publishing them?  (Most academic books sell only a tiny number of copies, mainly to college libraries, where they gather dust.)

For this week’s Pope Center poll, we have put together a list of ten recent books (listed in alphabetical order), with summaries paraphrased from publishers’ descriptions. Which ones do you think could get published without university funding? Vote below.

Africa in the American Imagination: Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture by Carol Magee

A study of pop culture’s representation of the visual traditions of the African continent—particularly the representation of black and white racialized identities.

Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary by Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward

Field studies in showing how blue jeans represent “the ordinary” to both immigrants and suburbanites—and what jeans say about our individual and social lives.

Empire of Dogs: Canines, Japan, and the Making of the Modern Imperial World by Aaron Herald Skabelund

An examination of the history and cultural significance of dogs in 19th and 20th centuries in Japan, “beginning with the arrival of Western dog breeds, which spread throughout the world with Western imperialism.”

Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia: Reconstructing Past Identities from Archaeology, Linguistics, and Ethnohistory by Alf Hornborg (Editor) and Jonathan D. Hill (Editor)

An argument that “the tendency to link language, culture, and biology—essentialist notions of ethnic identities—is a Eurocentric bias.”

Everyday Environmentalism: Creating an Urban Political Ecology by Alex Loftus

“A conversation between Marxist theories of everyday life and recent work in urban political ecology,” arguing that world-changing ideas emerge from the acts of everyday people.

Fabricating Consumers: The Sewing Machine in Modern Japan by Andrew Gordon

An exploration of how the introduction of the sewing machine to Japan transformed manners of dress, patterns of daily life, class structure, and the role of women.

The Kings of Casino Park: Black Baseball in the Lost Season of 1932 by Thomas Aiello

A story of how the Monarchs, a Negro League baseball team from Monroe, Louisiana, were denied the 1932 National Championship in order to save the league from bankruptcy.

Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America by Jo B. Paoletti

An examination of popular media to answer the question of why we dress boys in blue and girls in pink and to identify the “origins of today’s highly gender-specific baby and toddler clothing.”

Poker: The Parody of Capitalism by Ole Bjerg

A theoretical and empirical study tracing the history of poker and comparing the evolution of the game to the development of capitalism.

Silent Hill: The Terror Engine by Bernard Perron

A close analysis of the first three Silent Hill video games—one of the most influential of the horror video game series—“from a player-centric point of view.”