The impetus to make work visible is never innocent. As Lucy Suchman observed some twenty-five years ago, this will to representation can spring from ideologies of both empowerment and control. Today, scholars of work are drawing attention to undervalued, unevenly distributed forms of care and maintenance on which capitalist productivity depends. Yet surfacing such practices can paradoxically render them vulnerable to capture, whether by managerial efforts to police the threat of informality or by algorithms keen to codify tacit knowledge and thus render it obsolete.
It was with these tensions in view that the Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) launched Exertions as a new short-form web publication. Our aims were and are twofold: first, to accelerate the exchange of ideas between scholars of work and their interlocutors beyond the strictures of the journal system; and second, to challenge assumptions about what kinds of scholarship “count” in the academy. Exertions thus seeks to pair the dynamism of a scholarly blog with an optional process of open peer review, so as both to certify the quality of its output for the purposes of evaluation and to begin reimagining that process of certification along more transparent, constructive, and inclusive lines.
Making the undervalued labor of peer review more visible is not inherently progressive: indeed, doing so might reinscribe the myopic belief that only peer-reviewed knowledge matters. But opening up review might also reveal the generosity by which thought is shaped in community and demystify the publishing process for scholars at the beginning of their careers. In our formulation, open review also has the potential to redefine who counts as a “peer” by inviting feedback and critique from new quarters, including the many anthropologists working outside of the academy as well as other experts like activists and labor organizers.
In November 2019, Exertions published its inaugural work of scholarship, a photo essay created by two researchers based, respectively, in Canada and Bosnia-Herzegovina and shaped by reviewers from the United States and Germany. We hope that their exertions convey a sense of the collaborative, cosmopolitan, and experimental spirit that animates the project.
SAW invites submissions of short-form content related to the study of work in a range of formats, including but not limited to:
Activist interventions (e.g., the Postdoctoral Laborers Bill of Rights)
Translations of previously published texts
Reviews of conferences and other events
As a rule, submissions should be no longer than 2000 words; longer texts will be considered on a case-by-case basis and may be referred to the Anthropology of Work Review for consideration. Authors decide for themselves whether or not a submission should go through the open peer review process; if not, the editorial team will work with authors directly in a developmental capacity. In line with emerging best practices in scholarly communication, authors retain their copyright to all content published in Exertions, which appears under a CC BY 4.0 license unless other arrangements are made.
To submit a piece to Exertions, please send a brief expression of interest to SAW digital editor Marcel LaFlamme at email@example.com.
Photo by Peter Henry Emerson, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.