Coup at Environmental Journal?

Editorial board quits to protest shifts in leadership and direction – away from sociology and green theory and toward what critics see as a business-oriented approach.

October 29, 2012

The incoming editors of the journal Organization & Environment have posted on its website a notice in which they suggest that authors may want to hold off on submissions until December, when they will start to review pieces.

The notice reflects a reality that this isn’t a standard transition – but a shift in editorial direction for the journal that has its fans outraged and has led its editorial board to resign en masse. The editorial board members are charging that SAGE Journals (the publisher) is engaged in "an editorial coup" designed to displace environmental sociology and a leftist critique of environmental issues with an emphasis on the more business-friendly concept of sustainability. SAGE says that its changes for the journal have been misunderstood, and were designed to help the journal.

A joint statement from the editorial board members who have quit says that the changes are "a gross violation of academic freedom, scholarly standards, scientific responsibility, and business ethics." The 24 editorial board members quitting include professors at leading universities in the United States along with academics from Australia, Austria, Canada and Mexico.

The editorial board members said in their statement that SAGE "used its ownership rights to carry out a behind the scenes shift in editorial control."

One of the resigning board members – John Bellamy Foster of the University of Oregon – recently wrote to the environmental section of the American Sociological Association of the damage he said the shift would cause. Foster wrote that over the last decade, environmental sociology has flourished in part because of the commitment of Organization & Environment to publish such work. Prior to this work by Organization & Environment, many environmental sociologists had difficulty finding appropriate homes for their work, he wrote.

"O&E is being transformed from a self-designated ‘eco-social’ journal with strong links both to critical organizations theory and environmental sociology to one in which environmental sociology will be excluded, in favor of a sustainability-management (or green-capitalist) policy orientation," Foster writes. "This represents a major setback for environmental sociology, if not environmental social science as a whole."

This is not the first time SAGE has been accused of an editorial coup of a scholarly journal. Similar statements were made in 2009 by supporters for a political science journal managed by the publisher, which disputed those accounts.

Bob Howard, executive director for journals publishing at SAGE, issued a statement Sunday in response to questions about the resignations at Organization & Environment. He said he was "deeply concerned" about the resignations, but that they were based on the publisher's actions being "misconstrued."

He said that SAGE saw environmental sociology as "an important sub-discipline" but that "the number of scholars publishing in this field is small. As a consequence, the journal does not have strong copy flow and many issues publish late."

Howard added, "Our intervention was solely about maintaining the journal's quality and impact over the longer term.... I believe that by broadening the journal's remit, we can grow its reach and impact and that this will benefit the articles it publishes in environmental sociology, as well as in other related areas. Publishing without this broader remit was looking increasingly limiting to the journal's future." He said that the journal will continue to welcome pieces in environmental sociology, even as it moves into "other approaches."


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