“Between Journals of Tendency and Journals of Profession” in Cultural Studies

Can Fabra, Sant Andreu, Barcelona, Spain, May 14, 2017 | © Courtesy of Joan/Flickr.
Can Fabra, Sant Andreu, Barcelona, Spain, May 14, 2017 | © Courtesy of Joan/Flickr.

The essay will briefly investigate the changing environment of journal publishing that propels the upsurge in the number of scholarly journals in the field of cultural studies as well as cultural studies’ muted response to the asymmetrical power relations between big publishers and other stakeholders (authors, scholarly associations, societies and librarians).

A Blog Article by Izabella Penier.

Despite the interdependency of publishers and cultural scholars, their vital interests diverge. While the former are profit-driven, the latter are driven, in theory at least, by a mission to interrogate the intellectual, political, and ethical implications of the collusion of digital media and economy.  Cultural studies’ agenda is very politicised and interventionist – it is deeply critical of the neo-liberal and corporate status quo; thus, it is ideologically at variance with the economic structures put in place by commercial publishers.  According to Toby Miller,

cultural studies [is] as a mixture of economics, politics, textual analysis, gender theory, ethnography, history, postcolonial theory, material objects, and policy, animated by a desire to reveal and transform those who control the means of communication and culture and undertaken with constant vigilance over one’s raison d’être and modus operandi.   (2012 p. 108)

This definition highlights the paradox or contradiction that is the subject matter of this essay – cultural studies, dedicated to “revealing” and “transforming” exploitative means of communication, is in fact enmeshed in exploitive structures of academic journal production. Cultural studies came to prominence with its scathing critique of the political underside of media and communication, yet it has been strangely quiet about the unfairness of the current academic publishing landscape. Contrary to STM authors, engaged in the dispute over journals’ pricing, serials crisis and publishers’ business models (such as selling libraries journal bundles, these so-called “big deals”),1 HSS authors, including cultural studies scholars, have been remarkably blind to the contradiction between what they preach and what they practice – their own “raison d’être and modus operandi.”

An interesting explanation why cultural studies has been loath to challenge the material conditions under which journals are produced and consumed is offered again by Miller who argues that “there is a distinction within the humanities between journals of tendency and journals of profession” (Miller, 2012 p. 55). The journals of tendency are “less likely … to publish research derived from grants or to receive support from scholarly associations” (Miller, 2012 p. 55). These journals “[demonstrate] a commitment to articulate knowledge with social change… [They] [represent] a will to link the professoriat with social movements as a primary locus of power, authorisation, and responsibility.” The journals of profession, on the other hand, “[demonstrate] a commitment to articulate knowledge with social reproduction … [They] [represent] a will to link the professoriat with universities and professions as a primary locus of power, authorisation, and responsibility” (Miller, 2012 p. 55-56).  To conclude, while journals of tendency are “about a transformation of the social order,” journals of profession are “about its replication” (Miller, 2012 p. 56).

Replication serves, in fact, two purposes – it not only perpetuates the status quo by uncritically duplicating sanctioned knowledge but also builds careers of academics whose promotion and tenure depends on their publishing record in esteemed journals. This “publish or perish approach” has been created by universities, which in recent years, have put a lot emphasis on internal competition (Waters, 2014 p. 50). It has led to a considerable overproduction of research articles, whereby 90% of articles published in academic journals are never cited, and 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, reviewers and journal editors (Meho, 2007). It is hardly surprising that cultural studies scholars are more interested in “replication” that will advance their career rather than “transformation of the social order” that legitimizes the skewed power relations among publishers and the rest of the academic world.

There have been few challenges to this collusion. Besides the intervention by the-already-quoted Toby Miller, another one came from Gary Hall, the founder of Open Humanities Press, an international, scholar-led open access publishing collective that hosts around 20 Open Access cultural studies journals.  Hall’s 2008 study, Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now, contends that open access publishing has the potential to transform not only the humanities scholarship but also the academy and the academic publishing industry. Hall argues that open access can revitalise the field of cultural studies by challenging the neoliberal perception of the university aa s knowledge factory and a cash cow. Digitize This Book! is a radical call to reform the structures of the academic establishment to dissociate “the professoriat” from “universities and professions as a primary locus of power, authorisation, and responsibility,” and democratise access to knowledge through bypassing expensive subscriptions and paywalls.

Digitize This Book!  bears witness to the fact that from the outset, the mission of cultural studies’ scholars has been to reach out to groups and communities outside the academy (the public, policymakers and other stakeholders).  At present, the knowledge produced by cultural studies can, more often than not, be accessed only by elitist institutions that can afford costly subscriptions. All the major cultural studies journals are published under subscription, a few in a hybrid model. Articles are available to subscribers only and are released to the public after an embargo (12-24 months) or when the author pays an APC (article processing charge).  The current annual e-subscription prices of different cultural studies journals are listed below in descending order:

  • Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies (Taylor & Francis, £813),
  • The International Journal of Cultural Studies (Sage, £804.00),
  • Feminist Media Studies (Taylor & Francis, £744),
  • The European Journal of Cultural Studies (Sage, £ 707.00),
  • Cultural Studies (Taylor & Francis, £679);
  • Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies (Sage, £610.00),
  • Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (Taylor & Francis, £546),
  • Culture, Theory, and Critique (Taylor & Francis, £489),
  • Rethinking Marxism (Taylor & Francis, £317)
  • Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (Taylor & Francis, £251),
  • Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies (Duke University Press, $212, £160)
  • Public Culture (Duke University Press $110, £83)
  • Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies (University of Toronto, $140 CAD, £80),
  • New Formations (Lawrence & Wishart Independent Publisher, £30.00),
  • Soundings (Lawrence & Wishart Independent publisher, £25.00)

It is revealing that the majority of the flagship journals are published by Taylor &Francis, an imprint of Informa, a couple of others by Sage, Duke University Press, and Lawrence & Wishart Independent Publisher. The price of journal subscriptions published by big commercial publishers with an extensive portfolio of journals is several times that of that of smaller, independent or university press publishers. The comparison shows that flagship journal owners, like Sage or Informa, inflate the prices to generate profits – their subscriptions can cost 30 times more than those of the journals at the bottom of the list. In fact, as Mark J. McCabe has observed, the bigger the publisher and the larger its journal portfolio, the more significant is its average subscription price (McCabe, 2002 p.  267). Furthermore, impact studies indicate that the publishers from the private sector (Informa, Sage) opt for high-priced volume (of articles) while university presses prefer low-priced excellence (Dewatripont et al., 2006 p. 7–8, 23, 32; Miller, 2012 p 47).

The overview of institutional subscription prices of cultural studies’ journals shows that the knowledge produced by cultural scholars has, indeed, become a profitable commodity. This fact has far-reaching consequences for the audiences of cultural studies journals. Theodore C. Bergstrom has argued that “journal publishers have discovered that they can set their prices far above their average costs. These high prices reduce their number of subscribers but increase their profits, since the proportionate effect on quantity is less than the proportionate price increase” (2001, p. 191). High subscription prices diminish circulation and prevent scholars from communicating their knowledge freely, also beyond the world of the academia. Andrew Ross has called this phenomenon “the rush to propertize knowledge” (Schueller, Dawson, and Ross, 2007 p. 120) while Miller has called Taylor & Francis and the likes “corporate suspects of academic publishing” (2012 p. 54) and blamed them for restricting journal audiences to economically-privileged institutions that can pay.2 Propertization of knowledge is apparently at odds with the professed political agenda of cultural studies. As Hall has pointed out “the field of cultural studies is defined, in certain important conceptions at least, as a politically committed analysis of culture and power that at the same time critically reflects back on itself to analyse its own relations to politics and power” (Hall, 2008 p.  198). Yet its neglect of the issues of reproduction of academic scholarship proves that, as Hall put it, “cultural studies has not always been as political as it thinks” (Hall, 2008 p. 16).

Written by Izabella Penier

Edited by Pablo Markin


Bergstrom, Theodore C. 2001. Free labour for costly journals? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 15(4), pp.183-198.

Dewatripont, Mathias, Victor Ginsburgh, Patrick Legros, Alexis Walckiers, Jean-Pierre Devroey, Marianne Dujardin, Françoise Vandooren, and Marie-Dominique Heusse, 2006. Study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific publication markets in Europe. Brussels: DG-Research, European Commission.

Hall, Gary, 2008. Digitalize this book! The politics of new media and why we need an Open Access now. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

McCabe, Mark J., 2002. Journal pricing and mergers: a portfolio approach. The American Economic Review 92(1) (March), p. 267.

Meho, L. I.  The rise and rise of citation analysis. Physics World January 2007 arXiv:physics/0701012v1 [physics.soc-ph] [Accessed on 15 July 2018].

Miller, Toby, 2012. Blow up the Humanities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Waters, Lindsay. 2004. Enemies of promise: publishing, perishing, and the eclipse of scholarship. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Featured Image Credits: Can Fabra, Sant Andreu, Barcelona, Spain, May 14, 2017 | © Courtesy of Joan/Flickr.

Cite this article as: Izabella Penier, "“Between Journals of Tendency and Journals of Profession” in Cultural Studies," in Open Culture, 10/08/2018, https://oc.hypotheses.org/1222.


  1. The web forum of the journal Nature has been the chief venue for discussions about scholarly publishing. []
  2. According to Miller, “as measured by income, market share, and citations, the major corporate presses responsible for this situation are Reed Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Kluwer, Francis and Taylor, and Springer” (2012, p. 54). []

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