Anjan Chakravartty has been the Editor-in-Chief of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science since January 2012. The journal now resides at the University of Notre Dame where it has undergone some exciting changes.
Below, Managing Editor Jessica Baron interviews Anjan Chakravartty about his editorial reign.
JB: I’m sure you’ve spent some time thinking about what SHPS will look like under your editorship and now you’ve had almost two years to test out some ideas. What can we expect from the Chakravartty Era of SHPS?
AC: Surely nothing less than a new, golden age of history and philosophy of science. But seriously, my initial aspiration was merely to pay homage to the wonderful history of the journal by carrying on its traditions in a respectful way. After its birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood at the University of Cambridge, moving the journal to Notre Dame felt momentous, and I wanted to do my best to maintain the high standard set under the longtime (and inspiring) editorship of Nick Jardine and Marina Frasca-Spada. Now that we’ve had some time to get into the groove, though, it’s probably fair to say that we haven’t been shy about taking some initiative and trying out a few new ideas. One can’t get behind the wheel of the flagship journal for HPS and not have some fun with it!
Now that we’ve had some time to get into the groove, though, it’s probably fair to say that we haven’t been shy about taking some initiative and trying out a few new ideas.
JB: So now that you’ve grabbed the wheel, where are you taking us? Let’s talk about some of the new initiatives you’ve been working on.
AC: Our brightest, shiniest initiative is a new type of article we’re calling ‘State of the Field: x’, where x denotes a particular area of scholarship. The idea is to get scholars with a synoptic view of an area to write an article on scholarship in the history and/or philosophy of it, essentially giving a state-of-the-art, critical summary and assessment of the literature over a certain period on a historical topic or philosophical problematic.
JB: So not just a review article?
AC: Right. The idea is both to synthesize the existing literature and to provide some value-added analysis to give readers a sense of what has happened and is happening in that area, its issues, range, strengths, weaknesses, where it might or should go, and so on. These have been a lot of fun to think about.
JB: We’ve also been publishing a lot more “Discussion” articles lately.
AC: Yes we have, and I suppose this initiative is not so much new as resurgent. These are shorter pieces, which aim to give some commentary, analysis, or critique of a particular article, thesis, or argument published previously in the journal. I’m delighted by how much interest there has been in this lately. I think it’s a sign that we’re provoking responses, and I like the idea that we can facilitate this different and more reactive sort of academic exchange in the journal.
JB: I had suggested making those exchanges a steel cage match to the death between scholars, but it turns out that just wasn’t in the budget (or good for business). So, if not a referee of scholarly fisticuffs, what kind of role do you see SHPS playing in the field both now and in the future?
This is the only journal I know that actively solicits and revels in the wondrous diversity of humanistic perspectives one might take regarding those things we call science.
AC: I would like to see it continue to play the role it has always played, and that is to serve as the massive tent under whose sheltering embrace all those interested in humanistic approaches to the sciences can get together, have a few drinks, and learn something from one other. There have always been strong opinions about what HPS is or should be, but my own view is radically ecumenical. There is very historical work, very philosophical work, deeply integrated work, and every imaginable combination and permutation, with flavorings of anthropological work and ethnographic work and sociological work. This is the only journal I know that actively solicits and revels in the wondrous diversity of humanistic perspectives one might take regarding those things we call science. My own vision of HPS is one in which scholars representing all the many corners of this amazing panoply find stimulation and provocation in each others’ work.
JB: And yet, I know there are some areas you’d like to see better represented in the journal. Can you give us some examples?
AC: There are some areas in particular that I would like to foster and see more of. We haven’t attracted as much work in the area of sociological studies, and I would especially like to see more feminist philosophy of science, work on “non-Western” science, work on the history and philosophy of technology, and on historiography. Admittedly, there are specialist journals that focus on some of these areas and a lot of good work is funneled there, but as an editor, I’m greedy and want to bring more of it into the fold of Studies. It’s also part of our explicit aims to publish work on the sciences in relation to the arts. I’d like more of that.
JB: Is there anything you’re especially proud of as the Editor-in-Chief of SHPS?
AC: I would love to tell you about how special we are, but I’m also cognizant of my discussions with colleagues who are editors of other journals, some of whom I know very well indeed, and I have to admit to being awed by how hard this community of people works to bring excellent work to our collective table. That said, there is one thing in particular that I’m very proud of at Studies which may be going the way of the dodo in other places. I regularly get messages from authors who are genuinely touched and enormously appreciative of the feedback they get from our referees. I’ve seen wonderfully detailed, thoughtful, constructive assistance coming out of our process, without which so many insights would never have seen the light of day. I’ve noticed some journals moving to systems whereby they don’t ask referees for substantive comment, just a thumbs up or down, to maximize turnaround speed and seduce referees who are feeling otherwise overburdened. As one colleague told me: ‘We are not an article improvement service.’ Of course, that’s true, but I do see it as part of my role to help facilitate the development of great work, and I’m proud of the fact that we do that.
I regularly get messages from authors who are genuinely touched and enormously appreciative of the feedback they get from our referees.
JB: Do you want to say anything about your almost entirely new editorial team for SHPS?
AC: What can I say about them that hasn’t been said before?
JB: I mean in polite company.
AC: That’s a tough one. Just kidding. Without our Associate Editors, Rachel Ankeny (at Adelaide), Andrew Janiak (at Duke), and Ursula Klein (at the Max Planck Institute), and our Reviews Editor Renée Raphael (at California, Irvine), my job would be inconceivable. Just imagine the stupendous length and breadth of HPS and then fathom being the editor-in-chief of that. I need all the help I can get. It’s a great team; they’ve been fantastic. And let’s not forget you, Jessica Baron, Managing Editor extraordinaire, the glue that holds everything together and battles entropy on a daily basis…
JB: That seems like a great place to stop.