Rose with rain drops
22
Nov
2014

Love in the Time of Peer Review

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Reviewed by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris
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gaping maw” by Fio; CC BY-NC 2.0

Over the weekend of November 21-23, the Hybrid Pedagogy editorial board gathered in Washington D.C. for an intensive working retreat. During that time, we collaborated on the following article — 10 authors and reviewers working together in a single document over three hours to brainstorm, draft, and revise the piece. What we offer here is both an experiment in peer review and also a treatise on peer review.


Love as Pedagogy

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~ I Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV

Love, patience, kindness, humility, truth — we don’t often talk about these things in the academy. Even those of us who eschew discussion of “efficiency” and “effectiveness” in favor of “empowerment” often stop short of genuine affection. But education, at its core, is an act of love — it seeks to empower as its very nature. And this care fuels our desire to help each other become full agents in our own right.

When we truly love, we humanize rather than normalize. Much of what the academy does — both in teaching and in scholarship — is about norms. Even our new wine ends up in old skins, as the norms of academic discourse dominate the dissemination of our work in journals, monographs, textbooks. But love does not “insist on its own way.” In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks advocates for “an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom” (207). Empowering another human to be a mindful agent in their own learning requires a great deal of patience, kindness, and determination. These things only coexist with conscientious effort. This is the work that we all do as we exist simultaneously as authors, editors, and students.

As editors of Hybrid Pedagogy, ourselves also educators, we strive for love-as-peer-review. We seek to “give any author a voice,” bringing our voices to them in a meaningful and accessible way through a specific style of peer review. In this, we spread a little love around so that we leave the world in better shape than we found it.

A common myth in our culture is that knowledge comes from distance — from fact and not from feeling. Thus, in search of knowledge, as if in search of the atomic properties of iron, editors are so often scripted to discover truth by objectively dismantling and critiquing a piece of work. But that is not the full story. The search for knowledge must include feeling.

The guiding principle of our editorial process is not a relationship between an editor and a document, but a relationship between editor and author. This type of relationship is only possible in a space of love, from which we strive to understand others, what they are trying to say, and support them in their search.

A space of love is a space of learning.

In part, this is because when we have love as a foundation we are able to be vulnerable with one another, revealing our selves, our stories — our vulnerabilities make us both idiosyncratic and collectively human. Thus, when we share our vulnerabilities, we offer a new story to the world, one that has the potential to resonate with many.

bell hooks describes teaching-and-learning as a process that produces some degree of pain. This is true about writing-and-editing, too. These processes are much the same: editing is teaching, and writing is learning. And, while it is the vulnerability that makes us susceptible to that pain, it is also the force that inspires our humanity. Writing should be painful, and editors must respond to that pain with love.

We understand that a submission to Hybrid Pedagogy is an invitation into a private space — where ideas form words and inhabit that place with the author. This practice allows people — both authors and reviewers — to surprise themselves, again and again. While we often do not know exactly where an idea may go, there is a way in which our process designs for epiphany. The author may end up somewhere new, and the article may arrive somewhere unexpected. Ideas are emergent.

Editing from a place of love is grounded in relationships. Somewhere along the way in education, we forgot that peer review is a conversation. Opening the peer-review process reminds us of those human connections.

Charting the Traditional

In her presentation about open peer review at the 2014 OpenEd conference, Eva Amsen challenged her audience by asking: “Why are people so mean?” She argues that allowing the public to see the review process, and allowing readers to know their reviewers, demands that the reviewers be nicer and more human, a stark contrast from traditional academic peer review. Amsen noted that graduate students are introduced to the process of peer review by observing the way academics treat one another. It is an informal process defined at least partly by fear, where students “learn to be vicious” from receiving vicious blind reviews. Because the author and reviewers don’t know each other, they don’t respond to one another’s needs; instead, they work based on individual conceptions of what they believe the reader needs. The silence of the traditional review process reduces a “review” to a set of orders to be followed, an indifference to the author as a person and a resistance to the relationship between author and editor. Amsen’s presentation called for an intervention.

Traditional review processes (such as those used by Taylor & Francis or Elsevier) generally involve comments from reviewers, a single revision from the author, followed by publication. The exchange is brief, limited in duration, and transactional. These reviews involve a sender and a receiver rather than a conversation, eliminating the ability of writing to be responsive. The time an article spends in traditional peer review has grown substantially over the past generation, often taking more than two years between the time of submission and the time of publication. We believe a lack of communication is what leads to the long waits for publication. At Hybrid Pedagogy, enabling conversations keeps the article in the present and on the forefront for all parties. It also allows for exploration of topics, opportunities to follow potential arguments and theories in the hope of furthering arguments. It’s a great benefit to scholarship, more so than a desire to be rotten with perfection. The turnaround on articles is dependent on the relationship between author and editors: we have seen turnaround in months, weeks, days, and even in as short as seven hours. Traditionally, articles go from submission to publication in under a month, and articles that extend beyond that do so responsive to the authors’ needs and not the editors’.

We adhere to the warning from Elie Wiesel that “the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.” In this, we equate “indifference” with “objectivity,” so highly valued in the traditional peer review process. Objectivity casts a glaze of inauthenticity on the work, rendering it a static text of content rather than an active text of conversation. This is not objectivity; it is the de-humanizing, the killing, of writing. We must ensure that the author not only remains in a text but is nurtured. The conversations between author and editors at Hybrid Pedagogy do not exchange “rigor” for community; they augment the practices of academia with advocates. Such personal connections can be created within the traditional peer-review structures by pulling back the curtain, by removing peer review’s blinders. Erin McKiernan, who presented along with Eva Amsen, encourages academics to sign their names to their reviews and to explicitly give editors permission to share their identities with the authors. “The voice in your head becomes nicer.”

Traditional peer review is often more about the review than the peer. But an empowering, loving peer review is more about the peer than the review. That’s what we advocate for in Hybrid Pedagogy: a collaborative peer review process in which authors and editors work together to create a supportive structure that fosters a relationship between the author and the journal. It’s a rejection of the flow charts and -isms of much publication and a celebration of relationships and situated environments. It is not a process that can be diagrammed, and it is neither Humean nor Humanist; it is a belief in people. The one-way communication of sending an author a self-proclaimed objective review is replaced with a two-way communication focused on working together in an organic process.

Love, Learning, and Transformation

A loving approach to peer review transforms the work, the authors, the reviewers, the process — and this transformation bleeds into every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Putting love into practice is our way of approaching everything we do, a way of integrating rather than compartmentalizing our academic selves.

“Thich Nhat Hanh says that love and understanding are the same thing. … If this is true, then how do we as teachers read and respond lovingly to all of our students’ writing, even those we are confused by or do not understand? Is it our job to understand our students’ writing, or is it simply to assess its worth or quality? Obviously, I think the first. The question is how do we do it?” – Asao Inoue

If academic writing is a cathedral, then peer review is the flying buttress. The shape of the process determines the shape of what we build. When we are inside the cathedral, we cannot perceive the whole buttress. Part of it is outside, but it is nonetheless still there. The peer review — and the reviewers — is both apparent and hidden. Whether we notice it, and how much, depends on our orientation (temporal, physical, psychical, intellectual, political…) to the finished structure and how carefully we’re observing. Rigor is important to Hybrid Pedagogy’s peer review process. The infrastructure that provides that rigor is, however, one structured by understanding, a desire to build relationships and amplify messages, rather than a relentless and futile pursuit of best practices, objective assessment, or perfection.

“[F]or me all writing is a gift. The person who shares their writing … is giving you a gift. Now, just like with any gift, it isn’t always thoughtful, or to your taste, or beautiful, or — let’s admit it — liked. BUT, just like with any gift, you should be appreciative, tactful, and compassionate. You may have to return it, you may have to tell the giver why you didn’t like it — but you never have to hurt them needlessly or make them think you didn’t recognize and appreciate their effort.” – Dometa Brothers

Publishing is a pedagogical activity: for the author, the reviewer, the reader, the (re)user. Like all pedagogy, it sits in the present tense. And yet, it also holds to an emergent vision for the future. At Hybrid Pedagogy, we believe all forms of peer review are synonymous, and thus, “peer review” is a symbolic thread that can join a unified whole from the bits and pieces of our professional identities. Students review each other. Sometimes they review the work we’ve reviewed for them, and the texts we work with in our classrooms have been through many peer reviews. When love, understanding, and relationships enter the equation, the concept of peer is transformed. It becomes about who’s peering, how they’re peering, when they peer, and what they’re peering at, more than about a reified concept of “peer” that excludes those traditionally left out of the conversations. We should expand the signifying power of “peer review” in the academic publishing context to include how we use these words as teachers, mentors, students, children, friends, parents, and lovers.

Just as in pedagogical spaces, where we learn through peering review and peer reviewing — peer review is an opportunity to learn and teach simultaneously. In this way we transform scholarship into pedagogy and pedagogy into a form of love.

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7 Responses

  1. Agree with everything in this piece. Which scares me a little. Do I truly have such similar values to you all, to HybridPed, or is it that I spend too long read/writing HybridPed and interacting with you, that I have internalized the discourse and values? Probably a bit of both.

    Reading this, I am reminded of how every article I published with you guys was inifinitely better (and definitely more timely) than if I had published anywhere else.

    I decided long ago to do all my blind peer reviews in a constuctive manner, as if talking to the reviewer directly. And I have learned a lot from the way you all do it. Thank you

  2. Why is it that the act of asserting the value of love in pedagogy and academic discourse feels like a rare show of bravery? As a relative newcomer to the site, I have been struck again and again by the insistence on keeping the conversation real, accessible and critical. I deeply want you and your approach to academia in all its forms to flourish and create a tidal wave of more human-friendly thinking across the board. Putting love at the top of a collaborative effort describing a concrete practice typically fraught with fear, distance and sluggishness, speaks volumes about the change you intend to grow and sustain. Thanks for challenging the status quo.

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  6. Thanks for this interesting and enlightening piece on HP’s peer review process. The thing that resonated most with me here is this:

    “It becomes about who’s peering, how they’re peering, when they peer, and what they’re peering at, more than about a reified concept of “peer” that excludes those traditionally left out of the conversations.”

    I think this nails it. The traditional peer-review process is about exclusion, about silencing the voices of those deemed unqualified to be heard, unfit to participate in the “grand conversation”. This is not surprising, given that most of HE is directly descended from orthodox religious orders, themselves the primary gatekeepers of ancient and imperial power in Europe. Put this way, it all sounds somewhat anachronistic: didn’t the French Revolution deal with that already….

    Not really. These structures are infectious and spread like a virus. They invade our DNA, becoming almost impossible to eradicate.

    But, perhaps, they will mutate? A small change in the code might flip them, inward turning to outward extending. That code is agency and expansive learning. I think it is here:

    Les hommes naissent et demeurent libres et égaux en droits. Les distinctions sociales ne peuvent être fondées que sur l’utilité commune.
    -Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, Paris, 1789

    Here, and many other places too. So these barriers and impediments, the accretions of centuries of tyranny, can by small and incrimental manipulation become commodious and convivial assets to modern values of inclusion and participation. From peered to peering. Democratic society is possible. The experiment is only 200 years old. Perhaps in another two centuries we will achieve it.

  7. Thanks for this interesting and enlightening piece on HP’s peer review process. The thing that resonated most with me here is this:

    “It becomes about who’s peering, how they’re peering, when they peer, and what they’re peering at, more than about a reified concept of “peer” that excludes those traditionally left out of the conversations.”

    I think this nails it. The traditional peer-review process is about exclusion, about silencing the voices of those deemed unqualified to be heard, unfit to participate in the “grand conversation”. This is not surprising, given that most of HE is directly descended from orthodox religious orders, themselves the primary gatekeepers of ancient and imperial power in Europe. Put this way, it all sounds somewhat anachronistic: didn’t the French Revolution deal with that already….

    Not really. These structures are infectious and spread like a virus. They invade our DNA, becoming almost impossible to eradicate.

    But, perhaps, they will mutate? A small change in the code might flip them, inward turning to outward extending. That code is agency and expansive learning. I think it is here:

    Les hommes naissent et demeurent libres et égaux en droits. Les distinctions sociales ne peuvent être fondées que sur l’utilité commune.
    -Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, Paris, 1789

    Here, and many other places too. So these barriers and impediments, the accretions of centuries of tyranny, can by small and incremental manipulation become commodious and convivial assets to modern values of inclusion and participation. From peered to peering. Democratic society is possible. The experiment is only 200 years old. Perhaps in another two centuries we will achieve it.

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